These homes have "evolved" with photovoltaics, as a natural next step along the path toward higher energy efficiency. By BUILDER Magazine Staff

Long before Shea Homes got serious about including photovoltaics as a standard feature, the company had to learn to build an affordable, energy-efficient home. "We began about three years ago, really focusing on energy efficiency," says Jonathan Dome, director of partnering at Shea Homes in San Diego. "Then we added a solar hot water system, better HVAC, and low-E windows. We worked on tightening the envelope. PV is very glitzy, very high profile, and people get very excited, but it only pays off if the house is very efficient."

Shea was one of the first builders to contract for a large-scale installation of PV. It chose the AstroPower SunChoice system, Dome says, because it's self-contained. "It has an inverter on the roof, and a meter inside that tells homeowners how much power they're generating. That's very important to the consumer."

Shea has learned from its earliest installations. Future systems will be upgradeable to twice the power output. And Dome says that talks have begun about whether to offer PV pre-wiring in models where buyers don't want the option.

"If we pre-wired, [the panels] could be a relatively simple add-on," Dome notes. "Without the pre-wiring, we would lose money doing a solar retrofit."

Another change in the works: Dome notes that Shea's rooflines were never designed with PV panels in mind. Future elevations may remedy that situation.

"It puts us at a slight disadvantage," he notes. "It's OK if you're doing standing seam-type PV panels, but we don't do that on any of our homes.

"We'll bring in our architects," Dome continues. "At the same time, we may add tankless hot water systems. The beauty in all of these systems is that they're straightforward and simple."

Bottom Lines

Energy Costs by Source

Cents per KWH 1995 2000 2005 2010
Wind 5.3 4.1 3.9 3.5
Geothermal 5.2 4.0 3.8 3.7
Photovoltaic 21.8 16.4 13.1 8.7
Solar thermal 10.5 8.6 8.1 8.1
Biomass 8.5 8.1 7.5 7.2

Source: National Renewable Energy Laboratory Product: The Shea High-Performance Home; Current test market: 2 subdivisions; Location: San Diego; Total standard PV units: 100 (minimum); Home prices: $400,000 to $600,000; PV system output: 1.2kW (upgradeable to 2.4kW); Cost to homeowner: $6,000; PV panel manufacturer: AstroPower