Mandatory Solar Power

I have to confess that I’m in two minds about this development:

While there was little doubt it would happen, it’s now a done deal: California will require solar panels on most new homes. Officials at a December 5th Building Standards Commission meeting have voted for the new code, providing the last bit of approval necessary for the policy to take effect. New homes, condos and low-rise apartments will need eco-friendly power generation on their rooftops from January 1st, 2020 onward. The only exclusions are for homes that are either blocked by taller objects (like trees and tall buildings) or don’t have room for panels.
The building code is the first of its kind in the US, and may serve as a bellwether for the rest of the country. Critics are concerned this will further raise housing prices in a state where they’re already a sore point and might only offer limited energy savings. Proponents, however, estimate the technology could ultimately save homeowners money (as much as $60,000 over a 25-year lifespan). It could also lower the overall strain on the electrical grid, especially at peak hours.

I know, I know, it’s Loony California doing its little Totalitarian Green Thing and imposing unnecessary costs on homeowners (just the latest in a long, LONG line thereof).  But let’s take off the political filters for a moment and look at what’s involved.

Let’s say that for the average new home, this will add about $15,000 to the construction cost — which given the typical construction costs in CA, means about a 3% – 4% increase in cost per square foot.  We all know that initial building costs are generally far cheaper than retrofitting, so it makes sense to add the installation up front.  (In an ideal world, the state would offer some form of tax rebate to lessen the cost, but this is California, which last offered a consumer tax rebate in… okay, they’ve never offered a tax rebate.)  So unless I’ve made a huge mistake in my calculations (and feel free to do your own), the impact on the homeowner will be quite bearable.

Now let’s look at the benefits.

I’ll start off by calling bullshit on the quoted savings, because they didn’t include maintenance / replacement in the cost, and in any event, nobody stays in a house for 25 years anymore, so no, homeowners will not  see sixty grand cut off their electrical bills.  I’d also suggest that initially at least, the supply of solar panels would not keep up with the demand and instead of (say) $15,000 per household installation, the cost would balloon alarmingly, making nonsense of all the potential “savings” put forward.

But all that said, let’s consider this question:  is making the individual home less dependent on centrally-supplied electrical power such a Bad Thing?  It might make rolling brownouts and blackouts (pardon the inadvertent racism /sarc) a thing of the past, and lessen Californians’ exposure to damage caused by natural disaster:  earthquakes, mudslides etc. — not as the latter whack the houses, but in case the utilities’ properties and distribution networks are affected thereby.

And yes I know: what works in sunny Southern California will not work in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, but the chances of Michigan passing such legislation are negligible anyway.  (It might become mandatory in New York State, but that would serve the NY voters right for electing those watermelon politicians into power anyway.)

Here’s how I see it.  The whole beauty of a federal republic, to paraphrase the Founding Fathers, is to let individual states be “laboratories” so that stuff like mandatory solar power collection and welfare reform can be tested in microcosm, and what works can then be rolled out through other states as they see fit.

And while I would support the hypothesis that while generally speaking, the proper course of action is to do the polar opposite of what California is doing, this might be one of the very few exceptions.

16 comments

  1. The average cost is good : $15,000.00 FOR A GRID TIE SYSTEM – which most arrays are. In most states the way it works is that your array pushes power back onto the grid, and the utilities buy that power back at a fraction of what they sell it for. Without artificial govt subsidies, there is no economic incentive to go solar. They array will degrade on an average of 1% per year, so in 20 years most arrays will be producing 80% of the power they produce today. Most of your associated system components like your inverters will start crapping out too. I shudder to think what the cost of roofing repairs would be if you had to remove the solar first. The installers and solar advocates never tell you about this kind of stuff.

    For an off grid installation you will need batteries and possibly a back up generator. That will double your costs and again – unless you are a hardcore prepper with an environmental bent – you are probably better off with just the genset.

    What California is doing is offloading the cost of power production on gullible greenies. You really need to do your research on solar. It is only viable from an economic standpoint with govt subsidies. If the govt withdraws those subsidies as they have in the past – your costly array becomes a liability.

  2. ^ What Ferguson said. I’m going to guess the inverters and or their components will be made in China, so add in a 15-20% failure rate the first year. And good luck to the poor schlemiel who “owns” the house when it’s about 20 years old if he wants to sell it, when any would-be buyers will be discounting for a new solar system and a new roof. Then too, with “affordable” homes in California having maybe 3 feet between them, what will acres and acres of a virtual solar farm do to birds? Then too, imagine the architectural and aesthetic boredom if every house in an area has to have a roof facing south.
    At the rate they’re going, give Kalifornia another decade and nobody will be living there except the Dem politicians and the homeless.

  3. The cost figures make it apparent that only multi-unit dwellings – prole stacks – will be economical. This will free up more acreage for Good People use, tastefully.

  4. The last time I bought a house in California (1997, and it was the LAST time), it had a solar water pre-heater system installed (thanks to some tax break years earlier).

    In order to get a loan, I had to have the panels removed from the roof…So, the panels were removed, and the roof replaced. Apparently because putting roof panels on the roof was structurally unsound.

    So, they now want to put them back up?

    1. “So, they now want to put them back up?”

      Yes, they’ve got it all figured out now: Electricity weighs less than water.

  5. Another problem is that grid-tied solar is only allowed to produce power when the grid is up. If the power grid goes down the solar shuts itself off, too, so most people won’t get any emergency usage out of this.

  6. Let’s also look at the externalities.

    These panels are manufactured somewhere. What are the practices there? How are the toxic chemicals used in production handled? When these panels reach their end of life, how are they going to be disposed of?

    But let’s address the huge, glaring problem with widespread PV panels.

    Fire.

    First, they start more fires. You are adding electrical equipment to a building, equipment that can fail, equipment that can be installed incorrectly, equipment that can be damaged by weather. When it fails, it tends to arc. And arcs cause fires.

    And when it’s on fire, firefighters won’t go near it. It’s STILL producing electricity when it is on fire. If the sun is out, there is no way to “turn it off.” It’s also going to be giving off toxic chemicals (the same ones used to make it) while it is burning. It’s also a surface that’s not safe for the firefighters to walk or climb on. They are just going to have to let your house burn.

    Plus, if there is a widespread fire, you have REAL problems. Now all those burning panels are making big, widespread poison clouds. You also have a huge problem in that they are all connected to the grid. Unless every resident remembered to throw their breaker at the box, they are all sending power into the grid — even if the power company has turned off the grid on their end. So, when there are lines down, the firefighters can’t go near the the downed lines because they can’t know if they are energized or not. They also can’t go on the houses to disconnect them, because see supra. As more lines go down, they are going to arc and spark more fires, because there is no way to de-energize the grid when every fucking house is sending power into it.

    But, you know, all of that is only a concern in places that commonly have widespread fires, particularly ones that can quickly get out of control. That isn’t California, right?

    1. If the power company shuts off their grid, the panels stop putting power into the grid. It’s done for exactly the reason you mention – to prevent the grid from being energized unexpectedly. So if the power grid is down, the solar circuits will open (assuming everything is working correctly).

      1. The panels are designed to stop putting power into the grid.

        Are you going to bet your life that a 10 year old panel installed by an illegal from El Salvador will work as designed in the middle of a wildfire?

  7. One other item that hasn’t been mentioned yet: “lower the overall strain on the electrical grid, especially at peak hours”
    Another crock as peak hours usually occur when the sun is not shining.

    1. > Another crock as peak hours usually occur when the sun is not shining.

      Not in California.

      The *really* peak hours are late afternoons when everyone who can afford to is running their AC because it’s HOT.

      Also California has a tiered metering system. The first N kilowatts cost a little, the next Y are a bit more and everything over that is A LOT. A FOAF had business where he sold and installed (ground mounted, not roof) enough panel to keep you in the first or second tier.

  8. Slightly off topic.
    “to paraphrase the Founding Fathers, is to let individual states be “laboratories” “.

    Just think if public education could have gone through the state ‘laboratories’. Using the best methods would have us miles ahead of every country. Online courses/teaching videos would be state of the art, with many to choose from – not every method works for every student. And the costs would be nowhere near what they are today.

    There’s a phrase you used to use – RCOB I think.

    Thanks for letting me vent.

  9. We put in a PV/Battery system which gives us 4 house circuits with full battery backup. As long as the days are sunny we can run off-grid. House load averages 600W so we only needed a 10KW-hr battery. To help with the afternoon peaking load our utility taps about 5 KW-hr every weekday so the battery is recharged in the AM then discharged in the early afternoon to maximize the power we return between 2PM and sunset.

    In Southern California where I live the AC cooling load is maximum from ~1 PM – 6 PM, not at night.

    Note that a new system will automatically shut down if the grid drops. The 4 battery-backed circuits in our system are on a transfer switch that isolates them from the grid so we don’t energize our local branch circuit.

  10. How common are hailstones in California? Seems to me that a hailstorm could cause a lot of damage. Damage that would have to be paid for in increased insurance premiums. And therefore increased rents. Which would make solar panels less economic.

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