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Everything You Need to Know About the California Solar Initiative

California Solar Initiative | All Climate Roofing

In 2006 the California Public Utilities Commission adopted the California Solar Initiative (CSI) as part of the state’s Go Solar California Campaign.

The goal of the program is to increase the capacity of California’s solar energy production, thereby reducing greenhouse gas emissions and decreasing the overall negative impact on the environment.

To accomplish this goal the state implemented a series of rebates and other initiatives to drive solar use.

The most recent update as part of the California Solar Initiative came in May 2018 when the California Energy Commission approved new regulation concerning new construction of low-rise residential buildings, and changes California’s Building Energy Efficiency Standards.

The mandate, effective January 1, 2020, and a first of its kind within the United States, requires solar photovoltaic (PV) systems installed on all new homes.

It’s a move that, according to their press release, will be as effective as removing 115,000 fossil-fueled cars from the road and reduce the energy use of new homes by fifty percent.

The new Standards also establish requirements for newly constructed healthcare facilities.

Below, you’ll find everything you need to know about the update to the California Solar Initiative.


What are Building Energy Efficiency Standards?

The Building Energy Efficiency Standards (Standards) are part of the California Code of Regulations or CCR (Title 24, Part 6), the administrative law of the state.

They’re part of the mandatory regulations governing California, but individual county and city offices are responsible for verifying and enforcing compliance.

The Standards were originally adopted into the CCR in 1977 and are updated every three years by the California Energy Commission. The Energy Commission aims to “conserve electricity and natural gas and prevent the state from having to build more power plants.”

The Standards apply to newly constructed buildings and additions as well as new alterations to existing buildings. They’re intended to entice builders to use the most energy efficient materials and technologies available, while maintaining the overall cost-effectiveness to homeowners.


What are the newest changes to The Standards & the California Solar Initiative?

The Standards offer a multi-pronged approach towards enhancing environmental quality and reducing energy consumption.

The California Solar Initiative requirement for solar panels on newly built residences is just one of several changes that start in 2020.

Other improvements are intended to prevent heat transfer between the interior and exterior of a building, enhance lighting requirements, and improve indoor air quality. Those are accomplished through measures such as these:

  • Builders and homeowners are encouraged to use demand responsive technologies such as water heaters that use a heat pump, and battery storage. Builders can receive a 25% compliance credit towards the amount of PV they are required to deploy.
  • Commercial structures and family homes over four stories must comply with rules concerning windows, doors, and ventilation systems.
  • Non-residential buildings must be test the efficiency of such things as kitchen exhaust hoods, insulation, and blower doors.
  • Voluntary options to install technology that shifts energy usage during peak and non-peak times.


How much will the new Standards cost?

The initial cost of a newly constructed home is estimated to increase by about $9500 due to 2019 Standards.

Some builders disagree with this estimate and calculate as much as a $30,000 increase in the total cost of a home.

But the Energy Commission expects homeowners to save $19,000 over the course of a typical thirty year mortgage in usage and maintenance expenses.

Homeowners should anticipate that the total cost of a new home will rise about $40 a month as a result of the new requirement.

But these same homeowners should see their monthly heating, cooling, and lighting costs decrease by an average of $80.

The Energy Commission based these estimates on the assumption that homes would have access to and utilize multiple types of fuel, not just solar or just electric.

They anticipate that homeowners will regularly use natural gas as well as other fuels, and will change their fuel source based on cost.

It’s worth mentioning that many sources note that even without these changes solar panels are already being widely used with the construction of new single-family homes at a rate of about 15,000 installations per year.

That number is expected to reach upwards of 80,000 by the time these California Solar Initiative regulations become effective.


How much energy and money will the Standards save?

The press release issued by the Energy Commission compared the energy efficiency of these new regulations to that of the previous update in 2016.

They estimate that homes built to the new standards will use about 7% less energy than homes built to the 2016 standards. When rooftop solar electricity is factored in that estimate jumps to a whopping 53% energy savings.

That should lead to overall cost savings that can be felt on monthly power bills of those homes.

Non-residential buildings should experience thirty percent less energy usage from the enhanced lighting requirements. Once updated windows, insulation, and ventilation are factored in those building owners should see even more savings.

The state contends that greenhouse gas emissions will be reduced by about 700,000 metric tons over the course of three years.

Detractors of the new initiatives point to California’s high traffic population as the main source of greenhouse emissions and poor air quality, and argue that the savings estimated by the Energy Commission is not enough to offset that pollution.


Are the new residential Standards a move towards “zero net energy?”

In 2008 California set a goal for itself that new homes and commercial buildings would reach such high efficiency that renewable energy could meet the state’s annual energy needs. The target dates are 2020 for residential and 2030 for commercial buildings.

Without a doubt newer homes will be better equipped to meet those demands but the Energy Commission points out that the more important characteristic is the home’s ability to produce and consume energy at appropriate times.

It’s their goal that homes can respond to the ever-changing needs of the power grid they are a part of.

Policies such as the Renewable Portfolio Standards (RPS) and Net Energy Metering rules (NEM) that affect the value of power generated from rooftop solar panels have gone a long way towards creating a cleaner electrical grid.

Regardless of if you are in favor of the new California Solar Initiative regulations, it’s something we must get used to.