California moved to make solar panels mandatory on all new construction homes and low-rise apartment buildings this month; the first mandate of its kind in the nation.
California is already the nation's No. 1 market for solar installation. More than 5 million homes in the state use solar power, according to the Solar Energy Industries Association. The number of solar arrays - a grouping of solar panels - that have been installed in California can generate roughly the same amount of power as 20 nuclear reactors.
The United States now has over 53 gigawatts (GW) of solar photovoltaic (PV) capacity installed – enough to power 10.1 million homes and 26 times as much capacity as was installed at the end of 2010.
And the growth continues; the U.S. Energy Information Agency projects solar to grow by another 13 percent in 2018.
Sacramento One of the Nation’s Top Solar Cities
The rise of solar power over the past decade has been largely driven by cities. In these densely-populated areas, solar power is helping to clean the air and reduce carbon pollution.
In its Shining Cities 2018 report, The Environment California Research & Policy Center named the top 20 solar cities in America. California cities such as Los Angeles (#1), San Diego (#2), San Jose (#5), Sacramento (#12), San Francisco (#14), and Riverside (#18) all earned spots in the top 20 list.
These “solar stars” are cities that have the most solar pv installed per capita, at least 50 or more watts installed per person. Some of the cities on this list could generate hundreds of times more solar power, and the majority could generate at least 50 times more solar power than they currently do on the rooftops of small buildings alone, according to a National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) analysis.
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The Benefits of a Solar City
Solar energy helps cities in many ways, including combating global warming, reducing air pollution, strengthening the electric grid, and stabilizing energy costs for residents.
Reduces harmful carbon pollution: solar power generation produces 96% fewer greenhouse gas emissions than electricity from coal and 91% fewer greenhouse gas emissions than electricity from gas-fired power plants.
Improves public health by reducing air pollution: outdoor air pollution from fossil fuels has been linked to chronic and severe health conditions; pollution from electric power plants is responsible for approx 50,000 US deaths per year.
Helps build resilient cities: solar energy helps cities conserve water during droughts. Solar systems consume 500 times less water than coal power plants and 80 times less than natural gas plants
Solar Cities are Setting Goals and Taking Action
In leading cities, officials are setting ambitious goals for solar energy adoption, putting solar panels on city buildings, and working with utilities to upgrade the electric grid and offer electric customers incentives to invest in solar energy systems.
The cities that are leading in solar energy adoption are not doing so by chance. The second highest ranked city for total installed solar PV capacity, San Diego, has set the ambitious goal of generating 100% of its energy from renewable sources by 2035.
Seven other “solar star” cities - St. Louis, San Francisco, Salt Lake City, Orlando, Atlanta, San Jose, and Portland, Oregon – have set goals to receive 100% of their energy from renewable sources. Burlington, Vermont – one of the top-ranked cities for solar capacity per capita – is one of five communities in the U.S. that have already achieved this goal.
Sacramento’s Commitment to Solar Energy
It’s no wonder that Sacramento is one of the top 20 solar producing cities in the United States. The City has been earning recognition for its solar efforts for more than a decade. In 2008, the City of Sacramento was designated by the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) as a Solar America City for its dedication to clean, renewable energy and sustainability, and the region’s long-standing history of commitment to solar.
The City’s 2035 General Plan takes several steps to reduce carbon emissions. The City’s action plan for greenhouse gas reductions includes “green building” practices and use of solar energy systems. This action plan includes:
- Streamlining the permitting and interconnection processes for solar pv systems
- Reducing the cost of residential and commercial permitting fees by up to 77%
- Ensuring that sites, subdivisions, and buildings are configured and designed to maximize passive solar access
- Promote the use of locally shared solar, wind, or other energy generation systems as part of planned developments
What are the Consumer Benefits of Solar?
When consumers make the switch to solar, they can cut their electricity bills and contribute to a cleaner, greener living environment in their own city.
Federal Tax Credits
Solar consumers are eligible for federal tax incentives for the purchase and installation of eligible solar systems, including both solar photovoltaics (PV) and solar hot water (solar thermal) systems, as well as other renewable energy investments.
A federal investment tax credit is currently available for both residential and commercial consumers for both photovoltaics and solar water heating systems. The tax credit for residential system owners is 30% of the total system cost. The 30% rate is available for systems placed in service through December 31, 2019. After that, the credit drops to 26% through the end of 2020, then 22% through 2021 before dropping to zero by the end of 2021.
Reduced Energy Bills
Customers who install small solar, wind, biogas, and fuel cell generation facilities to serve all or a portion of onsite electricity needs are eligible for California’s net metering (NEM) program.
NEM allows customers who generate their own energy to serve their energy needs directly onsite and to receive a financial credit on their electric bills for any surplus energy fed back to their utility. For every kilowatt-hour (kWh) of solar electricity you feed into the grid, you get a bill credit for one kWh of utility-generated electricity. When your solar panels produce more than you need, you “bank” the excess to use when your panels don’t produce enough to meet your monthly use. NEM allows solar consumers to save up their credits for a “rainy day.”
Benefit to the Solar Industry
The solar mandate is sure to have an impact on solar industry growth in California.
In Sacramento, the clean energy sector is already one of the leading industries in the region. Clean energy in Sacramento supports approximately 200 establishments supporting over 3,000 jobs and $846 million of annual sales.
Employment of solar installers has been projected to grow 105% from 2016 to 2026, much faster than the average for all occupations. California is the state with the highest employment level for solar installers, who earn an annual median wage of $45,380.
A survey by the Solar Foundation research group counted 86, 414 solar jobs in California in 2017 - far more than any other state and 34.5% of the nation’s total. With the 2020 mandate, the solar industry in California is sure to continue its growth.
California’s Clean Energy Goals
The solar mandate is just one of many ways California is using building codes to clean up the environment.
The California Energy Commission approved the new building standard, which still needs final approval from California’s Building Codes Standards Commission. California building codes are updated approximately once every three years, with the next update occurring in 2019 and going into effect January 1, 2020.
Each new code standard pushes the state closer to a goal of zero net energy buildings. (Zero net buildings create an amount of renewable energy equal to the amount of energy they consume, resulting in net zero energy use.) All new residential buildings in California are expected to reach zero net by 2020 and commercial buildings by 2030.