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We are weeks away in the countdown to the 2020 solar mandates in California that require new single-family homes to include solar. This far-reaching energy policy was adopted last year by the California Energy Commission, and it requires solar photovoltaic (PV) electric systems to be installed on virtually every new residential dwelling built in the state. It will apply to all houses, condos, and apartment buildings up to three stories that secure building permits after Jan. 1, 2020.

Robert Raymer, technical director for the California Building Industry Association, said it best: “California is about to take a quantum leap in energy standards. No other state in the nation mandates solar, and we are about to take that leap.”

We are indeed at a crossroads between past and future as other states are expected to follow California’s lead and adopt similar policies. States like Arizona, Colorado, Hawaii, Nevada, New Mexico, and Texas are adopting new mandates and incentives that are giving solar a big boost. What does this mean for home builders?

The number of homes impacted by the mandates will be significant. Some 80,000 to 90,000 new single-family homes are built in California each year at present, and roughly 12,000 to 15,000 of those, on average, are outfitted with solar energy. All told, around 140,000 PV systems are up and running on single-family homes across the state, either retrofit or new-home installations. The solar mandates about to go into effect apply to new construction, so the number of single-family homes with solar installed is poised to increase from 140,000 to 150,000 to 240,000 to 250,000 in 2020 and thereafter.

“This is an undeniably historic decision for the state and the U.S.,” says Abigail Ross Hopper, president and CEO of the Solar Energy Industries Association. “California has long been our nation’s biggest solar champion, and its mass adoption of solar has generated huge economic and environmental benefits, including bringing tens of billions of dollars of investment into the state.”

The new CEC policy focuses on four key areas: smart residential PV systems; updated thermal envelope standards (preventing heat transfer from the interior to exterior and vice versa); residential and nonresidential ventilation requirements; and nonresidential lighting requirements. The standards also encourage demand responsive technologies such as heat pump water heaters, improvements to a building’s thermal envelope to enhance comfort, and energy savings by inclusion of high-performance insulation and windows.

“Under these new standards, buildings will perform better than ever, and at the same time they contribute to a reliable grid,” explains Andrew McAllister, CEC commissioner and the organization’s lead on energy efficiency. “The buildings that Californians buy and live in will operate very efficiently while generating their own clean energy. They will cost less to operate, have healthy indoor air, and provide a platform for ‘smart’ technologies that will propel the state even further down the road to a low-emissions future.”

As the mandate takes effect, it’s vital that builders know where to turn for help navigating necessary changes to their design process and production workflow. Most of the larger builders in California have nearly a decade of experience under their belts and should be able to move forward without interruption as they design and build new homes come January 2020. Smaller builders may have challenges to overcome, however. Some have already jumped on the solar energy train, but those that haven’t could find themselves facing a steep learning curve. They should start to acquire the necessary knowledge and expertise to fully understand the “nuts and bolts” of solar power systems installation today.

One way to achieve this is to bring in an energy consultant or company with expertise and experience in California’s solar energy market. Solar consultants will need to understand design, equipment, and labor needs, and builders will need to plan and coordinate their build schedules and master plans for review and approval far in advance of the effective date.

“Builders should be lining up their supply chains now. They should also consider partnering with local, regional, and national solar firms in the California market to better coordinate and meet the new rules more cost-effectively,” advises Sean Gallagher, SEIA’s vice president of state affairs.

“One of the benefits of installing solar on new construction is the ability to integrate the solar installation with the design, planning, and construction processes,” Gallagher adds. “This significantly reduces the permitting time and makes the overall investment more cost-effective than retrofitting an existing home. In addition, new homes in California are so energy efficient that solar installations on new homes may be significantly smaller than average retrofit systems. Smaller systems and lower costs mean that initial costs for home builders should be more modest.”

Labor is another key consideration. California has been the perennial leader in U.S. solar power systems installations, so it has attracted a lot of experienced and aspiring solar energy professionals. The supply of skilled labor has kept up with growing market demand thus far. Nonetheless, it would be wise for builders to work closely on a continuing basis with product suppliers and installers to ensure they have the necessary inventory and skilled employees to complete projects now and into the future.

California has been a leading proponent of solar power for the past decade with its goal of reaching net zero energy usage by 2045, but other states are already following its lead. As similar policies become more prevalent, builders everywhere will need to be more in tune with the demands and requirements of structural design and implementation that optimize the performance of solar, as well as other clean energy systems. This new paradigm of energy partnerships is a win-win not only for home builders and buyers, but also for energy providers, people, and the planet.