California Requires Solar Power in New Buildings

California solar building mandate

Last week, the California Energy Commission voted on a plan that requires new buildings to have solar power and battery storage, particularly residential high-rises and commercial structures like hotels, offices, grocery stores, restaurants, theaters, schools, and convention centers. It would also require new homes to allow for transferring natural-gas heating and appliances to electric sources.

This new plan adds to stipulations enacted last year, requiring new single-family homes and multi-family dwellings (up to three stories) to include solar panels.

Why This Matters

According to projections from The Nature Conservancy, California's goal to transition to 100% renewable energy by 2045 will require between 1.6 and 3.1 million acres of wind and solar. Rooftops of buildings are excellent places for solar power, as they keep solar farms from encroaching on the state's wildlife habitats.

Homes and businesses use 70% of California's electricity and produce a quarter of its greenhouse gas emissions. The commission calculated that the emissions removed by the plan over 30 years would be the equivalent of removing 2.2 million cars from the road.

These new regulations fit with existing building codes in 49 of California's municipalities that limit or prohibit natural gas in new construction. Other states are also approving bills that could help transition buildings to solar power -- earlier this month, New York approved a measure that prohibits homeowners associations from restricting the use of rooftop solar power systems on people’s homes.

California Soaks Up the Sun

California's energy use has been particularly urgent because of intensifying drought and heatwaves, which have resulted in devastating wildfires. Solar power could also help the state manage blackouts during wildfire season -- solar panels could serve as secondary energy sources when utilities switch off the power.

Moreover, California has lots of capacity for rooftop solar power. Bay Nature reported:

In San José, 97% of roofs are viable for solar panels, which could theoretically provide California with 4.4 GW of capacity. Even in foggy San Francisco, 84% of rooftops are suitable for solar panels, which could add 1.6 GW of solar capacity.

"The future we're trying to build together is a future beyond fossil fuels," David Hochschild, the chair of the Energy Commission, told the New York Times. "Big changes require everyone to play a role. We all have a role in building this future."

CNBC: The Rise of Solar Power, September 21, 2019.