Do I Need Solar To Be Energy Compliant In California?

As part of California’s increasingly ambitious energy plans, new solar mandates have been put in place over recent years.

With these changes comes the question, “Is solar mandatory for me to be compliant in California?”

Before you spend thousands on a solar panel installation, let’s dig in and answer the question above.

If you’re not familiar, let’s start with the basics first.

What Is The Solar Panel Mandate In California?

The solar mandate refers to a California Building Standards Commission code approved in 2018 and put into effect in January of 2020.

This piece of legislation (officially known as Assembly Bill 178) is a first of its kind in the United States.

Its goal is lofty but simple:

In addition to saving consumers money, the aim is to eventually draw 100% of California’s power from renewable resources. To do so, the state government has required that certain structures, meeting specific criteria, have solar installed.

As a result of unprecedented laws like this, California continues to be the leading state for solar usage and focuses on renewability and climate change.

Who Needs To Have Solar To Be Energy Compliant In California?

On the residential side of things, the mandate applies to new single-family homes (and multi-family dwellings) up to three stories tall.

According to J. Andrew McAllister, a lead commissioner at the California Energy Commission:

Buildings profoundly influence our health, environment, and economy. Into the future, they will use less energy and emit less pollution while still being comfortable and healthy.”

As of fall 2021, The California Energy Commission also voted to require new rules on the commercial side of things.

Now, commercial buildings also will require solar panels and battery storage systems. 

However, these newest changes are only slated to go into effect around January 1, 2023.

According to the Energy Commission once more:

“Homes and businesses use nearly 70% of California’s electricity and are responsible for a quarter of the state’s greenhouse gas emissions.

[The energy mandate] is estimated to provide $1.5 billion in consumer benefits and reduce 10 million metric tons of GHGs, equivalent to taking nearly 2.2 million cars off the road for a year.”

“How Do I Know I’ve Met The Criteria If I Require Solar Installation?”

There are two main factors considered:

  • A building’s location (climate zone)
  • How much power is consumed per year, on average

Again, the goal is to draw 100% of California’s power from renewable sources.

So a system on any given home or commercial building is required to be big enough to “cancel out” its annual kilowatt/hour usage. This is also known as “net-zero energy efficiency”.

According to the mandate’s estimates, sizes of home solar setups are expected to range between 2.7kw and 5.7kw.

What Will Being Compliant Cost Consumers?

Referring once again to the California Energy Commission, there are likely to be some added costs to consider.

(No surprise there, really.)

Specifically, they estimate there may be an average additional $8,400 added to single-family home development costs.

Other estimates predict a slightly higher figure of $9,500.

However, even if this becomes a requirement, the benefits of solar don’t change.

Eventually, utility savings will balance or cancel out these upfront costs. 

The California Energy Commission projects a solar system could easily pay for itself in 5-10 years.

Over a 30-year period, that’s expected to be an average total energy and maintenance savings of $19,000.

Ultimately, the real cost of solar installation comes down to personal usage, specific upfront total cost, home size, etc.

Summing It All Up

Unless you’re a contractor of a newly built home or commercial building, you have little to worry about.

Homebuilders are on the hook for making sure the properties they build meet solar requirements from day one.

That said, it’s worth booking this info to make sure any property you’re putting money into is up to code – or contact our local team to help you better understand.


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