California clears final hurdle for state's landmark solar panel mandate for new homes

By Jeff Daniels, CNBC

A requirement for new homes built in California starting in 2020 to include solar rooftop panels is now formally part of the state's building code. It follows approval Tuesday by the California Building Standards Commission of a plan endorsed in May by a state energy panel.

The action by the state building standards commission came in a unanimous 8-0 vote and makes California the first state in the nation to mandate solar-energy installations on most single-family homes as well as multi-family residential buildings up to three stories, including condos and apartment complexes. However, the solar rule has raised concerns the cost to build new homes will soar and further erode home affordability statewide.

The solar requirement is expected to add on average about $9,500 to the cost of new houses but is projected to be offset by about $19,000 in energy savings over a 30-year period, according to the California Energy Commission. Back in May, the energy policy and planning agency approved the requirement for solar panels for most new California homes built starting in 2020.

"Today's unanimous vote was the culmination of more than two years of work by SEIA, it's partner organizations and of course policy makers in the Golden State," said Sean Gallagher, vice president of state affairs for the Solar Energy Industries Association, a trade association of the solar energy industry. "We hope other states will look at what California has done and consider similar policies to encourage clean and low cost solar energy."

The state has estimated that solar standards applying to most homes and many commercial structures could save California residents and businesses millions in energy costs. The new standards require solar photovoltaics on new residential single-family buildings and multifamily buildings up to three stories high.

"While per capita electricity consumption in the U.S. has increased steadily over the last 40 years, California's per capita consumption has remained flat, due in large measure to building and appliance efficiency standards," California Energy Commission Executive Director Drew Bohan said in remarks Tuesday before the building standards panel in support of the new solar mandate. "The new standards presented today will guide the construction of buildings that will continue to keep costs down, better withstand the impacts of climate change, and reduce greenhouse gas emissions."

The approved standards still allow new home construction to continue with some natural gas but the state is pushing to reduce gas need over time and facilitate a shift to high-efficiency electric appliances, such as heat pump water heaters.

"These highly energy efficient and solar-powered homes will save families money on their energy bills from the moment they walk through their front door," said Kelly Knutsen, director of technology advancement for the California Solar and Storage Association, an industry trade group. "Homebuyers will also have a solar plus storage option, allowing their home-grown clean energy to work for them day and night."

The California Building Industry Association estimates that only 15 to 20 percent of the single-family homes built in California have solar panel installations. At least seven cities in the state, including San Francisco, already have solar mandates of one form or another on new buildings.


An Additional Fund for Solar Power

By Ivan Penn and Inyoung Kang, New York Times

California wants the sun to power homes day and night.

With a measure signed by Gov. Jerry Brown, the state has made a new commitment of $800 million for clean-energy technologies including home storage. The goal is to capture electricity generated by solar panels during daylight hours to help keep the lights on after the sun goes down.

The funds increase the state incentives set aside for energy storage to more than $1 billion. The rebate money can be used for residential and commercial systems, including for schools, farms and businesses.

“We want to make sure that everyone who has rooftop solar also has an energy storage system,” said state Sen. Scott Wiener, a San Francisco Democrat who sponsored the bill. “Once you have a rebate program that the industry knows is stable for a number of years, the industry will invest and innovate.”

According to the California Solar and Storage Association, a trade group, homeowners can expect to pay about $4,500 for the typical installed battery system. That figure is the out-of-pocket cost after a $3,500 state rebate and a federal tax credit worth $2,000.

About a third of the money has been set aside for low-income people to claim first.

The state funds the incentive program with a fee of about 50 cents a month added to utility customers’ bills.

The rebate offer follows Brown’s recent signing of another bill that mandates 100 percent carbon-free electricity in California by 2045. The effort to increase storage is seen as a critical step in reaching the carbon-free goals.

“This is a classic California nuts-and-bolts policy of how to build the dream,” said Bernadette Del Chiaro, executive director of the trade group.


A voice for the solar consumer: the SRA

The Solar Rights Alliance is officially only seven months old, but is already shaking things up in the California state capitol as a voice for PV system owners in policy.

By Christian Roselund, PV Magazine

The meeting was in a back room at Norton’s Steakhouse, a quarter mile from the Anaheim Convention Center. The invite-only nature and the lack of signage made it feel a little like I was attending Fight Club; fortunately I had a connection who had tipped me off.

Among the forty or so bodies crammed into the standing-room-only space I spotted some of the most influential people in the solar industry. SEIA Chair and long-time SunPower executive Tom Starrs had a casual, cat-like presence in the back of the room, and California Solar and Storage Association (CALSSA) Executive Director Bernadette Del Chiaro was standing against the wall, her posture betraying her characteristic mix of energy and poise. Vote Solar was also well represented, as was Sunrun, and the top solar lawyer in Arizona was standing by the door.

In the front Mosaic founder and CEO Billy Parish gave an introduction to the purpose of this meeting: to introduce a new organization that is taking on a previously under-developed area of the solar industry: organizing solar consumers. In doing so he brought forward the man who is leading this effort, veteran political organizer David Rosenfeld.

ringing together PV system owners on policy issues is not new idea; groups such as Tell Utilities Solar Won’t Be Killed (TUSK) in Arizona, which are largely comprised of homeowners, have existed for years. However, two years ago CALSSA began organizing solar owners explicitly as consumers. By March of 2018 the 800-member strong organization had raised enough money to hire Rosenfeld as its sole staff member, and rebranded as the Solar Rights Alliance (SRA).

If that acronym sounds familiar, this is intentional. “The vision behind the organization is the NRA,” declared Rosenfeld at the meeting. “You get a gun, you become a member of the NRA. You get solar, you become a member of the SRA.”

What is also unique about SRA is that unlike other advocacy groups with a specific ideological bend – such as Conservatives for Energy Freedom – SRA is intentionally as broad as possible. “Our members may disagree about a lot of other things, but they agree on their right to generate their own electricity,” Rosenfeld told pv magazine. “We want this to be the biggest tent possible for people who have solar or want to get solar.”

According to Billy Parish, the theory of change at work here is the more people that financially benefit from clean energy, the faster the transition. He estimates that including workers, there are 3 million people who benefit directly from clean energy in California.

Rosenfeld’s estimate is in that ballpark. Right now there are 850,000 net-metered PV systems in California, the vast majority of them residential systems. Given an average household size of 2.9, this means nearly 2.5 million people living in homes powered by the sun – and another 300,000 – 450,000 each year.

Since Rosenfeld took the reins in March, SRA has ballooned to 7,000 members. By Parish’s estimates of his success with an email blast to owners of PV systems that his company has financed, as many as 3,000 of those may have come from Mosaic alone.

But anyone working in political advocacy knows that for membership organizations size without engagement is meaningless. With 5% of its members making donations, SRA seems to be off to a good start.

The test of SRA came during the week of the meeting in Anaheim. Governor Brown had not yet signed SB 700, the bill that would extend the Self Generation Incentive Program (SGIP), despite it having been passed a month earlier. The solar industry was getting nervous that a veto was on the horizon. SRA sent out an email to its members, and Rosenfeld estimates that around 500 sent an email to the governor. More significantly, an estimated two dozen called the governor’s office within 24 hours.

By the end of the week, SB 700 was law.

Rosenfeld is far from satisfied with the current growth of the organization, and says that recruiting new members is his number one priority. He wants to sign up at least one person from 10% of the more than 800,000 or so households that own PV systems, which would grow the organization more than ten-fold to more than 80,000 members.

This will take money, and like many small non-profits SRA is running on a shoestring. There are no dues and the organization is still mostly funded by the solar industry, although an estimated 5% of members contribute financially.

Aztec Solar was an early sponsor of the organization before it even became the SRA, and since that time four of the largest players in the California residential industry have backed the effort: Sunrun, Vivint, SunPower and Mosaic. SRA is still looking to raise another $30,000 by the end of the year to continue and expand its work in 2019.

On the horizon, there are also thoughts of taking SRA national. “SRA is a framework we can replicate,” notes Billy Parish. “Let’s be bold, and let’s win.”


To join the Solar Rights Alliance, click here.

To donate to the Solar Rights Alliance, click here.


California is one step closer to 3 GW of new energy storage systems through rebate extension

By Kelly Pickerel, Solar Power World

In a bipartisan victory for local clean energy, the California Assembly passed SB 700 (Wiener) today with a 45-15 vote (at time of passage). The bill would result in nearly 3,000 MW of behind-the-meter energy storage systems at schools, farms, homes, nonprofits and businesses in California by 2026. The resulting program would be on par with the highly successful program California set in motion with the Million Solar Roofs Initiative back in 2006.

“We are making the sun shine at night!” said Bernadette Del Chiaro, executive director of the California Solar and Storage Association, the 500-member clean energy business group that has championed SB 700 for the past two years. ”SB 700 will do for storage what SB 1 did for solar over a decade ago, namely create a mainstream market by driving up demand and driving down costs all while creating jobs and clean energy choices for consumers.”

SB 700 would achieve these goals by re-authorizing the Self-Generation Incentive Program (SGIP) for an additional five years, extending rebates for consumers through 2025. It would add up to $800 million for storage and other emerging clean energy technologies, resulting in a total investment of $1.2 billion for customer sites energy storage. Boosting energy storage will help California achieve its goal of generating 100% of its electricity from renewable resources, as called for in SB 100 (de Leon), which passed by the California Assembly yesterday.

“If we are going to get to 100% clean energy, we need to be using solar power every hour of the day, not just when the sun is shining,” said Senator Scott Wiener (D-SF), author of SB 700. “This bill will protect clean energy jobs while also protecting consumers from ever rising energy bills.”

The California solar and storage industry supports over 86,000 jobs, far more than the traditional utilities. These jobs are in jeopardy unless the storage market achieves the same mainstream success as solar, which saw an 80% decline in costs over the course of the 10-year incentive program and an astounding 20-fold increase in installed local solar energy systems.

“SB 700 provides clear and consistent policy that will drive down costs, expand access, and support job growth,” said Alex McDonough, Vice President of Public Policy for Sunrun, the nation’s largest residential solar, storage and energy services company.  “Solar combined with batteries is a clean, reliable and affordable solution that can and should be available to all.”

SB 700 now heads to the Senate for concurrence before being put on the governor’s desk for a signature sometime in September.