Traditionally, when someone buys a house, they receive a card from their realtor that says, “Thanks for your business,” and a gift basket with some thoughtful housewarming gifts. Now, thanks to new zoning codes in Lancaster, California, new homebuyers will also receive a brand-new solar photovoltaic (PV) system (though “receive” is probably a misnomer, as the cost of the system is presumably built into the home price).
Lancaster changed its zoning code in March 2013 to require a 1.0 to 1.5 kW PV system for every new home built on lots larger than 7,000 square feet or 1.5 kW systems for rural homes up to 100,000 square feet. Builders will also have the option of building distributed systems for new developments. For example, a builder could install a single 20 kW system for a 20-home development. (Note that Sebastopol became the second California city to enact a solar requirement for new homes in May.)
Lancaster is the first city in the United States to require PV systems for new residential construction. This regulation marks a significant win for solar companies, the renewable energy industry, and the state of California. The advantages for the PV industry are obvious: the regulation will drive the market as new homes are built, creating revenue and jobs. Widespread installations will also improve installation techniques and develop a base of skilled installers. For California, this change will help relieve an already stressed electric grid that funnels power from the northwest to southern California (Lancaster is about 65 miles north of Los Angeles).
Extrapolating numbers across the United States paints an even more ambitious picture. The National Association of Home Builders forecasts that 647,000 new homes will be built (or at least started) nationwide in 2013. Imagine that each of these homes comes with a 1.0 kW PV system installed; by the end of 2013, we would have a new 647 MW power plant distributed across the country. It’s not quite that simple, but the point is this: a seemingly innocuous zoning change like Lancaster’s could have a tremendous impact once it scales across the country.
Furthermore, this would mean more good news for a growing North American PV market. Navigant Research’s report, Distributed Solar Energy Generation, forecasts that 220 GW of distributed solar PV will be installed worldwide from 2013 to 2018, representing $540.3 billion in revenue, but the majority of that growth will come from Europe. Extrapolating again, adding 647 MW of PV capacity each year in the United States would increase distributed PV capacity by approximately 15% to 20%.
Of course, there are numerous hurdles standing in the way of widespread adoption of anything similar to Lancaster’s zoning laws, and not everyone is applauding this move. While there has been relatively little opposition from Lancaster residents, the homebuilders clearly object to the new codes. Specifically, they feel that this change puts their product at a disadvantage when compared to the resale market. Regardless, it will be interesting to see if other cities follow suit, making the new regulation a boon for the PV industry, or if Lancaster and Sebastopol prove exceptions in an already growing market.
Tags: Home Energy Management, Policy & Regulation, Residential Solar, Smart Energy Program, Solar Power
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