The California Energy Commission recently adopted building standards requiring solar photovoltaic systems on new homes starting in 2020.
The new standards, the first in the nation to require solar, are expected to increase the cost of a new home by $9,500, which is around half the cost of installing solar PV systems on existing homes. But they will reduce energy in new homes by more than 50 percent.
They will also reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 7,000 metric tons over three years, an amount that equals removing 115,000 cars off the road. Buildings account for 25 percent of the state’s greenhouse gas emissions.
While the Energy Commission estimates that the new standards will add $40 a month to the average new home mortgage payment, they will save $80 a month on healing, cooling, and lighting. The new standards will also benefit non-residential buildings, which will use about 30 percent less energy.
While some critics of the new standards will zero in on the cost increases, a Los Angeles Times opinion piece sums up the benefits of them. While it will be “expensive to decarbonize California,” as the Los Angeles Times points out, “there is a long-term payoff for those investments.” Those payoffs include cleaner air and more jobs in the clean energy sector.
There is another benefit of the new standards. Buildings under the standards, “will perform better than ever, at the same time they contribute to a reliable grid,” said Commissioner Andrew McAllister, the Energy Commission’s lead on energy efficiency, in a statement. Both residential and non-residential buildings in California will operate more efficiently, generate energy, and cost less to operate, he added.
The California Building Industry Association backs the new standards. “With this adoption, the California Energy Commission has struck a fair balance between reducing greenhouse gas emissions while simultaneously limiting increased construction costs,” said California Building Industry Association CEO and President Dan Dunmoyer.
There is a political saying that as California goes, so goes the nation. The Solar Energy Industries Association’s President and CEO, Abigail Ross Hopper said that while other states may not be ready to adopt similar standards, “this is a precedent-setting policy.”
New report details the impacts of climate change on California
The state Environmental Protection Agency released a report the same day as the Energy Commission approved the new regulation that tracked the 36 indicators of climate change and its impacts on California. The report documented extreme weather events, including the wildfires in 2017 and the historic six-year drought. Warming trends that propel extreme weather events such as the rise in average temperatures and the number of extremely hot days and nights have accelerated.
Average air temperatures have increased throughout California since 1895, the report found, and temperatures have increased at a faster rate since the mid-1970s. The last four years were the hottest on record. Wildfires and drought have also increased. The deadliest, most destructive and largest wildfires occurred in 2017, and that year ranks as the second largest fire year in terms of total acreage. The drought from 2012 to 2016 was the most extreme one since instrumental records began.
While wildfires and drought have increased, snowmelt has decreased. The amount of snowmelt runoff from April to July relative to total year-round runoff has decreased, which leads to less water being available in the summer to meet the needs of the state.
The report, in short, shows why the Energy Commission needed to set new standards that require solar panels. California is being hit hard by the impacts of climate change and we can’t afford to wait any longer to take action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
Image credit: Andy D'Agorne, courtesy Flickr