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California Votes to Require Rooftop Solar Power on New Homes (bloomberg.com)
305 points by JumpCrisscross on May 9, 2018 | hide | past | web | favorite | 319 comments

Requiring specific technical solutions is rarely a good idea. For example mandating that all new cars have catalytic converters is a common but not very good requirement. The requirement should be formulated as a goal/limit, not a solution.

Having one solution required means you can’t innovate to find a cheaper or better solution to the same problem.

The answer in this context would be to require a total net power draw for the home. Adding a production unit just gives more room in the calculation and not having one might mean more expensive insulation or smaller windows are needed instead.

That is how title 24 has operated for years. They have two methods for compliance, prescriptive and engineered. The prescriptive method is they specify minimum Efficiency values for things like insulation, doors, windows, HVAC, water heater, etc and takes climate zone into consideration. The engineered gives you an annual energy budget and you just have to meet that in the model. So for instance you can have a house that doesn’t have insulation but with enough solar on the roof you can make up for it. The idea is prescriptive is to make it easier on owner builders and engineered is so that professional builders can optimize with market forces in consideration and designers can make trade offs like spending more money on efficiency in order to allow larger openings (doors and windows) as a percentage of total area.

This solar requirement has been a long time coming. I haven’t looked at the new standard, it’s called Title 24 2019 because it’s still under development but they might just pushing the energy budget low enough that solar is effectively required. Otherwise it may be required for prescriptive title 24 compliance. The article talks about square footage and 2kW minimum systems which to me sounds like the prescriptive requirement.

Personally I’ve never been able to use prescriptive for design reasons but some contractors for sure do, and they don’t understand the concept of modeling.

So yeah, you can innovate all you want and CA set it up that way for years now.

If it was this[1] proposal that was accepted, it applies to the performance path too.

[1] http://docketpublic.energy.ca.gov/PublicDocuments/17-BSTD-01...

> Requiring specific technical solutions is rarely a good idea. ... The requirement should be formulated as a goal/limit, not a solution.

While I instinctively agree, does anyone know of any research in this area?

I can speculate about possible downsides to legislating a performance specification rather than a solution: Giving people every possible option could result in people gaming the system, it could hamper investment because it creates uncertainty about what the future solution will be, or it could simply reduce transparency because the specification may be written to favor one solution anyway. That's just speculation, however; we need data and expertise.

It seems to me that using a metric that is as close as possible to the actual desired outcome is the way to minimize the potential of gaming the system (i.e. Goodhart's law). At the end of the day, the desired outcome is more closely related to net energy consumption (per building, square foot, person, or similar) than to the number of solar panels on roofs. Of course, this is assuming that the regulations come out of sincere concern for the environment and/or energy grid, not concern for special interests like solar panel manufacturers or construction companies.

In principle I agree, but I think in this particular case you might have trouble if you mandated a particular maximum level of energy consumption or a minimum level of on-site power generation, since some houses just aren't in a good place to get sun and there aren't any compelling alternatives to solar for power generation in residential areas.

Perhaps we should discourage people from building in shady places, but that would have a side effect of encouraging people to build where they need more AC.

A more market-based approach might be to just tax electrical use higher. Unfortunately, that would be a very regressive tax. (I don't live in California, but I understand you have or used to have a sort of sliding scale, where if you use more energy than average you pay a higher rate per kwh.)

Another option would be to require new power generation to be built along with new construction, but allow builders to decide how to do that and allow them to share power generation. For instance, a developer building a hundred houses might put solar on each house or they might build (or buy a partial stake in) a solar farm or wind turbine being built outside of town where land is cheap. The tricky part there is to ensure that any new power generation is actually being built specifically for the new construction, and builders aren't just piggybacking on power generation that would have been built anyways.

> In principle I agree, but I think in this particular case you might have trouble if you mandated a particular maximum level of energy consumption or a minimum level of on-site power generation, since some houses just aren't in a good place to get sun

Which is exactly why mandating a specific solution like rooftop solar doesn't make sense. Your counterargument actually somewhat supports the original argument :)

Do you want those houses to have some half-efficient solar, or do you want them to be unable to be built at all?

Forcing solar on a house like that is suboptimal, forcing a certain generation metric is even worse.

> require a total net power draw for the home

Not good either. Just let people pay for what they use. Each person can decide how to optimize for his or her needs.

Yup, and make dirty power more expensive with a carbon tax.

This makes sense if people living in the house are the owners, but it's completely opposite for rentals. The owner may be keen to invest in lower future bills. But if they're just renting, why would they care? The bills don't come to them and they still get the same in rent.

It could work for rentals if there was enough empty places that people could be picky about the energy efficiency of the houses they rent, but that's likely not the current situation.

make it easier for renters to know how much they will pay in utilities.

That's basically what we do now, but the trouble is cheap power sources with undesirable externalities win the energy market because consumers want more energy for less money.

Another trouble is the builder doesn't have to pay for the energy usage of the property, and there's no well-established way for the buyer to estimate consumption like there is with mpg.

Is there nothing similar to an EPC[1] in America?

[1] https://www.gov.uk/buy-sell-your-home/energy-performance-cer...

Not really, but a letter grade is lacking a critical feature of mpg- anybody with a third-grade education can quickly estimate the exact gasoline costs of operating a prospective vehicle purchase. How do you translate a "B-" to dollars?

Maybe not on the home as a whole but every consumer major appliance comes with a standardized energy comparison chart.

Who wants less energy for more money?

> Who wants less energy for more money?

There are a lot of nutjobs running around saying they want Coal back, the President of the United States, for example, despite Coal being more expensive than Solar now.

So, to answer your question in earnest, Fossil Fuel Energy Companies and their bought-and-paid elected officials.

Those aren't people thst want less energy for more money, those are people that want to sell less energy for more money.

The people that want less energy for more (immediate) money are the people that want external costs priced into retail energy prices, but that's just because they don't want environmental damage to be treated as a non-cost.

Perhaps people who like good air quality

Probably everyone born in the next 100 years who will be subject to the externalities we currently allow.


OK, so then tax the power sources that have bad externalities, in proportion to how much they are a tally costing the world.

That's not really how it is now as some localities are massively subsidized by others.

Yeah a tax on electricity would make the most sense.

A tax on carbon fuel would make more sense still. Polluters should pay for their pollution rather than foisting their externalities on others.

Except, how do you get to choose what type of power you buy? What if I live back east and would happily pay for wind or solar but my only option is coal or natural gas?

In many states back east (at leas Massachusetts and New Hampshire), you can choose who is your energy supplier, as the distributor and provider are separate items on the bill. There are several "green energy" suppliers vying for your business.

This is great but has the unfortunate side-effect of some energy suppliers telemarketing to try to get you to switch to their "lower rates", which inevitably increase again after a few months.

So check the system in your state, you may be pleasantly surprised.

The same way you've chosen to live in a (cheaper) house without all the earthquake resistance requirements.

Part of the decision-making basket you evaluate in deciding to live somewhere includes the cost of energy with the cost of its externalities.

As toss1 mentioned, some states let you choose your supplier.

Another way to do it is to tax it when the utility buys it. This moves the math around for where they source power from.

Solar is not pollution free.

And with emission tax this would be correctly reflected in price of solar as well.

Exactly. The energy required to manufacture, transport, install and maintain it would all be taxed.

Compared to other options (coal/natgas) it effectively is.

Yeah because who cares about those poor people who need electric to live, right?

Most people don't realize that if you tax the externalities, that is basically a regressive tax on the poor.

That's why basically every carbon tax scheme ever proposed involves remitting the revenue back to people on a per capita basis.

Remitting on a per capita basis doesn't change the regressive nature. You can only fix the regressive nature if you return it based on income. And even then, the poorest people don't have the float necessary to pay for the bill now and get a tax refund later.

There seems to be some confusion.

Wealthy people typically have a larger carbon footprint than those who aren't well off. Think flights, buying a car more frequently, etc.

If everyone has the same carbon footprint, the tax is strictly neutral. If people have different footprints, money flows from polluters to non-polluters.

The tax not being regressive was already addressed, so I'll note that there's no need for float. The remit can be built into the energy bill.

How would you formulate a building code for total net power draw, given how much it depends on occupant behavior?

Assume spherical occupant.

In America that’s been a pretty safe assumption for some time. The problem is that when you take that gift and draw a hard vacuum on it, they tend to burst.

You can't know ahead of time how an occupant will behave, but you can use existing heat load calculations to determine how many kWh will be used on average. Whatever math was done to size the HVAC system can also be used, in conjunction with the normal solar irradiance of the area, to size the solar install. Requirement could be as simple as enough PV to run half the A/C system plus another kW or so.

Would a house builder be allowed to size their solar panels assuming the home owner sets their AC to the 80°F some authorities recommend? Or should they size them for the 70°F I've seen some homes set to?

> depends on occupant behavior

That's easy, occupant must follow recommended behavior.

And be glad that Genetic Control is not issuing a four foot restriction on Humanoid height.

( https://www.google.com/search?q=Get+%27Em+Out+by+Friday )

Likewise the perfect is the enemy of the good. Having an idea of what a perfect regulation would be means that you end up arguing against helpful regulations because they don't meet your standards for "good idea".

Your point isn't incorrect, but it's at best misplaced and mistimed. You should have been yelling about this when the law was being written, not now that it's passed. To those of us who care about the subject, your pedantry is harmful, not helpful.

Laws that are merely "good" hurt innocent people and ruin lives. Never settle for "good" when it comes to law.

I have trouble thinking of many perfect laws.


Most people only hear about terrible laws until after they have passed.

If a bad law is bad, we should definitely continue to criticize it, if only for the purpose of influencing FUTURE laws.

Fine, but the argument above didn't seem to paint this as a "terrible" law, just a suboptimal one. If you want to argue that it's terrible, feel free. My view is that it achieves a valuable goal with relatively low cost (but not free) and few (but non-zero) inconvenient side effects.

Is this not just a thinly veiled attempt to increase new construction costs by NIMBYs?

Mistakes cause and effect. NIMBYs don't want to increase construction costs, though they want to maximise the value of existing property.

The requirements to build it on new homes makes old homes more valuable because they have one less requirement. It makes already built homes relatively more valuable to new ones.

Its a drop in the bucket of NIMBYism tho.

This doesn't make sense. When you add an asset to one thing it doesn't mean that things without that asset go up in value. Are buyers like "oh you have a house with no solar pannels?! I want to pay more for that!"?

"You have a house that doesnt require to build more solar panels? Great I did not want to pay and maintain that".

You're suggesting that a house with solar panels pre-existing is a net burden on homeowners? I can't imagine that as a serious contention but I installed solar and every option had excellent warranty coverage that spanned owners, and the energy offset alone for an already installed system is an annuity worth thousands of dollars.

I could see that. Homes that don't have this requirement will be more valuable over time.

No; Nimby's need no justification to dig their heels into the ground.

I'm new to this HN thing so in an attempt to be "civil" I'll simply say I disagree with every single thing you said.

The decision to implement California car emissions standards was not a heavy handed or half baked idea. The Rand corporation was called in to help figure out a solution other than catalytic converter and the ultimate decision was signed off by Ronald "not a fan of regulation" Reagan. Not only have there been improvements in the catalytic converter but also there's this company called Tesla that has innovated and provided an alternative. Your suggestion of goals was implemented in the last administration and is in the process of being removed. Lobbyists kill goals/limits.

A total net power draw is regulating the users behavior. Is that what you want?

Smaller windows or better insulation...? While home A/C is a factor, this is not about the user. This is about clean power for California (whether it's effective at producing the power is a different conversation). Users can still get better insulation or smaller windows or innovate as they see fit. California had two nuclear reactors. It has shut them down. This legislation (which I didn't know about till today) is one in a long string of movements toward cleaner air starting back in 1967.


An unrelated note, I hear all this talk about money As others have said, this is an economic non-starter for a home in California. One thing that has not been mentioned is that currently home appraisers do not consider solar panels in the value of a home.

> also there's this company called Tesla that has innovated and provided an alternative

You can't really call Tesla an alternative to regular cars with a price point of $80K (plus options, plus taxes). I know there are people in Silicon Valley who have so much money that $80k is like pocket change to them, but even in SV that's a minority. In the meantime, I've bought a car for $2k several years ago and it still runs (admittedly, it required some repairs on the way, but still).

> home appraisers do not consider solar panels in the value of a home.

Insurers do, as I recently found out. So maybe appraisers will catch up too.

$50k, plus taxes.

You bought a car for $2k, but it was a used car. The fair comparison might be a Nissan Versa S, the cheapest new car in America at $12,780. Or maybe your car has more features than that, I don't know. That still puts the Model 3 at a multiple of the cost of that car, but hardly to an insane extent. Hell, in California you can, today, with rebates (yes, you have to pay some money up front) buy a new BMW i3 for about $22k. Of course, that's a particularly limited electric car, but then again, it also has features a $12,780 Nissan Versa does not, so you could argue the Versa is also limited.

We're not there yet, but we're getting there.

Actually a better argument from your point would be that the mandatory reverse cameras, airbags, safety cells, safety belts, ABS, etc, make new cars more expensive than they SHOULD be. In many countries you can get a brand new car for way less than $12,780. Of course, it's less safe and pollutes more than the new car you buy in the US, but there's a tradeoff in price.

Then again, that tradeoff trickles down to the used market, and pretty soon you have a $2k used car that HN buyers can buy, which is safer, cleaner, and more fuel efficient than an equivalent used car in a 2nd world country.

Or at least, that's how it works in theory.

As DSC has been mandatory for a few years now in Australia, this means anyone buying a reasonably new 2nd hand car is going to get this important safety technology.

This is a good thing. You'd be hard pushed to claim it has brought the prices of cars up.

Likewise if all new houses must have solar, it's just going to become the norm and everyone will benefit. Bravo!

I wish Australia had made double glazed windows mandatory (as well as solar panels). Alas, most people (well, at least politicians) have no idea what you're talking about, and prices are way up there.

That was (pretty much) my point. Although you can't claim there's not a cost, it's fairly minimal.

Yep, got that - sought to reinforce it. :)

>Likewise if all new houses must have solar, it's just going to become the norm and everyone will benefit. Bravo!

I live in a house built in 1920s. Ever seen someone driving a Model T?

Actually, just yesterday I was next to one at a stoplight in Menlo Park, CA.

> We're not there yet

That was kinda my point :)

The conversation was about catalytic converter as an example a government mandated solution instead of a spec. Smartfortwo cars, Chevy Bolt, Nissan Leaf, and Tesla products address the goal and bypass the spec. I was pointing out - maybe in too cheeky a way - the counter example that specs kill innovation.

I agree that a a more general law would be better, but for the foreseeable future I don't see this law having detrimental side effects. Also this law can be addressed in the future when solar is a less compelling technology.

It sounds horrible to me for a number of reasons:

* Increases the cost of homes

* Gives solar power industry a boost in a way that's hard to get rid of--they will lobby to keep this even if other industries are around and it'll probably never change

* No incentive to research new energy technology in the meantime

> Increases the cost of homes

And decreases the energy bill by a very similar amount of what an increase in the mortgage would be if the cost was 100% passed on. Regardless, in much of California the price of homes has little to do with the cost of building them. So another possibility is buildable land gets a little cheaper because building is more expensive and homes are priced by what the market will bear, not by material cost.

I agree with you. I just finished installing a solar system that covers 1.5x my needs in my Southen California house. 5.4kw. My system cost installed was $2.61/watt - with $7000 being labor from a contractor and $6300 the hardware and panels. And my payback will be 4.2 years based on the past 29 months of usage.

Let us assume that there is simply a hardware expense because the builders already have roofers and electricians. It’s such a fraction of a mouse fart (as mentioned) that going solar will essentially pay for itself after 2 years.

I can see builders charging a premium for the "electric car package" or the "double your consumption" service but something like 3W of production for each square foot per month would be amazing.

> And decreases the energy bill by a very similar amount of what an increase in the mortgage would be

Sure, this is true iff a) the home has a nice south-facing roof, b) without trees in the way and c) under the current tariff design in most of California.

Some homes are built in wooded areas. Deciduous trees on the south side of the house (in the northern hemisphere) 1) shade in the summer, 2) allow the sun to warm in the winter are 3) are attractive.

Finally, regulated-monopoly utilities will continue to pass their costs to their customers. They will change the designs of their rates to continue to recoup their costs. So what might be saved in utilities costs today won't necessarily be saved over the life of the mortgage.

In most cases sure. But, there will always be corner cases, places where solar panels don't make economic sense.

> Increases the cost of homes

In a narrow sense; TCO, however, may be lower. (EDIT: TFA itself indicates +$9500 new home cost, -$19,000 30-year electricity cost as the average impact.)

> Gives solar power industry a boost in a way that's hard to get rid of--they will lobby to keep this even if other industries are around and it'll probably never change

Sure, the solar lobby will seek to preserve this as is as the landscape changes. Competing industries will seek either to remove or broaden it to accommodate other approaches to the same policy objective. The homebuilding industry lobbied against it, and it still was passed. “One industry will lobby to keep it” does not imply “it will never change”, or the past absence of the rule would never have changed.

> No incentive to research new energy technology in the meantime

Even with 100% residential solar deployment—not just on new construction—there’s a lot of energy demand that doesn't cover and plenty of incentive to find an efficient way of meeting that demand.

Also if power needs are being met through other green tech, shoehorning this specific approach seems like a bad investment.

The cost of homes in 2018 is primarily driven by how much people can get for a mortgage, not by the materials that go into building them.

If homes had to be built to a better standard by legislature (Better insulation, or solar roofing, or whatever), it would, in the long term, drive down the price of land, but keep home prices similar.

Not to mention that you cannot retrofit solar panels on a home at the same interest rate as you can get on a mortgage. Forcing banks to lend money for these installations actually makes it cheaper for the homeowner.

Laws rarely get removed. The detrimental side effect is lower incentive to build new homes and rising cost of existing homes.

If some other practical carbon-free home power generation tech emerges (fusion?) the code will probably be amended to say "... or a 5 kw basement fusion reactor". That's how the building code has mostly evolved, by adding specific alternatives rather than trying to be entirely general.

Being specific has disadvantages, but the big advantage is that most decisions can be made by contractors reading the code instead of requiring an (expensive) engineering calculation. Engineering can be 1/3 of the cost of a remodel as it is. Increasing the engineering cost gives a big advantage to tract home builders who can amortize the engineering across a subdivision, which results in suburban malaise.

For instance, current energy codes require a certain R-value of insulation in walls, so that any contractor can go to Home Depot and buy the insulation marked with that R value and expect it to pass inspection. If the code said "Homes may only lose X BTU/year through all surfaces" it'd require a lot of engineer time per house to work it all out.

It's great that solar has evolved from being so expensive that it could only be installed in the most carefully optimized system, to something where you can just slap a few panels on a roof and expect reasonable results.

Why should homes generate power? California has vast desert areas to tile with solar panels at less expense.

> Why should homes generate power?

To reduce transmission losses, among other reasons.

> California has vast desert areas to tile with solar panels at less expense.

Even if it would be less build/maintenance expense per unit of delivered energy, a lot of California's vast deserts are either federally protected, and so not available even if it was smart to use them otherwise or already being irrigated and used for agriculture. You can't really cover a farm with solar panels without killing it's function like you can a house.

> Laws rarely get removed

It's true that they more frequently get modified, often repeatedly and radically, until little trace of the original remains.

But anyhow, this isn't a law it's a regulation, and regulations are somewhat more likely to be removed (sometimes, because removal or even modification of the law under which the regulation was adopted forces this, independent of what the regulator would choose without that constraint.)

In the near- to even medium-term future, adding another $10K to the cost of a new home in much of California is going to have a pretty negligible effect on demand. If you're expecting to pay over half a million for a home -- the median listing price for homes in CA right now is %515K, according to Zillow -- it's not much of an exaggeration to say that another $10K would be a rounding error.

This might be the case (I used ”rarely” as my weasel word of choice). Some times it’s good to break habit and tradition - and building is a lot about tradition and often not efficiency. Buildings are constructed like the last one, not in the most efficient, clever or economic way. Tradition can be pushed by laws like this.

Another example is the EU regulation on incandescent bulbs. Stops people buying what they always did and helps pushing prices down for alternatives.

This isn't exactly an either-or, but it seems like CA could have achieved the same results (for example) by incentivizing more density of construction. IIRC vertical housing costs less to heat & cool than horizontal housing. Mandating residential solar will make utility-scale solar/wind/etc. that much less attractive, even though it may be more effective long-term. Also, this limits construction to the availability of solar installers, which may not be in harmony today.

So it may be the case that the time and political capital spent on this path foreclosed other options and end up creating a rigid solution that prevents creativity in achieving the goals.

I tend to agree even though I have solar panels on my own roof. I have clear southern exposure but what about houses that are shaded? Maybe a better use of money in such a case would be better insulation or a geothermal heat pump. Perhaps a points system of some kind, with different energy reduction strategies getting different points.

I also think there should be a progressive component to the requirement. The standards could be looser for a $100K house vs a $1M house or perhaps a progressive tax credit of some kind.

One exciting thing about this is that the costs of solar will be much lower for solar than otherwise. All homebuilders will have to make their designs solar ready, soft costs such as customer acquisition will be lower for solar companies, economies of scale, etc.

> I have clear southern exposure but what about houses that are shaded?

FWIW: very, very few houses (especially in CA where the overwhelming bulk of homes are built in arid biomes with very short trees!) have roofs that are actually shaded. A "shady house" means a house with trees nearby that shade the yard and the periphery of the roof. Take a look at Google Maps for your neighborhood for proof of this. The roofs are sunny almost always.

The first thing that popped into my head was that this really bones homes that only get 1-2 hours of direct sunlight per day.

Almost all solar power works just fine off indirect sunlight too.

Consider that Germany has plenty of locations lucky to get 1-2 hours of direct sunlight per day and yet it has outpaced the US for many years.

New construction surrounded by redwood trees would probably still be able to justify solar thermal panels on the roof in addition to PV's, because it might make off-grid construction possible.

Having one solution required means if you innovate, you need to convince the rule makers to allow it. Having no required solution creates on ongoing problem of verifying possibly useless implementations.

The problem becomes that the people profiting off the current required solution tend to be able to outspend you in convincing the rule makers to keep the current rule.

I agree with this idea in spirit... is there another completely passive way to generate energy with unused space? Windmills and thermal couplers have issues and limitations too.

How do you rectify the free market innovation that was the VW/Audi/Porsche diesel scandal? There are mandated emissions requiments and the businesses are free to innovate solutions to meet them. Result: they just lied and cheated, in support of a specific technology that simply can’t meet the requirements but that they had made a century long commitment to. And became the largest car company in the world while doing it. How do you prevent net power draw regs from a) not resulting in just shitty home construction b) not encouraging cheating, many materials might not even be sourced from the US (like Canadian lumber) if you have to factor net energy into construction and c) not resulting in homes that require aftermarket additions like air conditioners which would in turn require new regulations? Or worse, really jacking up home prices when you simply can’t build new homes. what if you buy a house but then operate it differently than expected? Energy star numbers on TVs are this way, there are some really efficient TVs but nobody hardly ever operates their tv at those most efficient brightness settings, the viewing sucks.

It seems like you might want to reevaluate the rules in 10 years, it’s part of a big energy initiative they are taking on though. There is also room for a ton of grid innovation to make this work out reasonably. This law seems pretty simple in terms of the bigger goals the state has.

The world doesn't ha e a shortage of open land.

This is why ideas like this are stupid. There are lots of open fields where we could put solar panels, and the gains from putting them directly on houses are close to none.

This is actually an attempt to drive out poor people by increasing the cost of newly built homes. You have got it absolutely correct that there should be goal and mandating a specific solution only ends up hurting innovation.

Say it costs $100 to install the solar roof. What if I were to invest the same $100 in a company that is building solar farms in Nevada and providing that electricity to California ? Wouldn't that give additional benefit to the planet ?

What if you expand from solar to all renewable including R&D labs ?

When you build a house in bay area you already more efficient because of relatively moderate temperature than the farmer's home in Fresno or Lake Shasta.

I think the politicians who get voted in power because of bay area yuppies have forgotten that their state is also an agricultural state with many hardworking people.

Saw this in my rss this morning:


>I just became aware in the last few days of the proposal in the new building energy efficiency standards rule making to mandate rooftop solar on all new residential buildings. I want to urge you not to adopt the standard. I, along with the vast majority of energy economist, believe that residential rooftop solar is a much more expensive way to move towards renewable energy than larger solar and wind installations. The savings calculated for the households are based on residential electricity rates that are far above the actual cost of providing incremental energy, so embody a large cross subsidy from other ratepayers. This would be a very expensive way to expand renewables and would not be a cost-effective practice that other states and countries could adopt to reduce their own greenhouse gas footprints.

>I agree and would add that allowing more building near transit and other hubs as with California’s rejected SB827 would not only lower housing prices, rather than raise them as with this proposal, it would also be a much better way of reducing carbon emissions and saving energy.

Even though rooftop solar might not be the most economical solution to reduce greenhouse gas footprints, I would argue it's very effective. The costs are directly baked into the real estate mortgage and requires zero changes with regards to zoning and planning.

In an ideal world SB827 makes sense, but it was rejected. So I'm glad CA is trying something more pragmatic instead of waiting for a 'perfect' solution. Even if something similar to SB827 is passed in the future - worse case, we'll end up a bunch of rooftop solar installations. That's not so terrible.

There are parasites in this industry. One of the largest home builders in the United States, Lennar, owns a subsidiary, SunStreet Solar. When you buy a Lennar home, SunStreet then offers to sell you these panels at a very, very above market price. Or they offer to lease you the panels where you indefinitely pay for ALL of the energy the panels produce, even if you don't actually use it, at some "discounted" rate. Meanwhile, you are opted into the lease if you buy a Lennar home. Or you can always pay above market rate for panels that are often under or oversized due to lazy workmanship and practices by SunStreet.

Without even researching it, I feel pretty sure Lennar, very active in CA, lobbied for this. It is probably a net win for the environment, and our energy independence, but these guys have found a way to turn it into a recurring revenue stream that benefits them the most in the long run and not the consumer.

I have consulted a lawyer and they advised me it quite likely violates consumer protection laws in my state. Other states have had similar difficulties with shady solar providers cashing in on this wave of relatively inexpensive panels.

> Even though rooftop solar might not be the most economical solution to reduce greenhouse gas footprints, I would argue it's very effective.

Inefficient and expensive systems can do harm, regardless of the good intention behind this law. Rooftop solar has substantial embedded carbon and impacts on the grid that could easily outweigh the small benefits. We need a solution that provides the right incentives to use it when it makes sense, and not use it when it doesn't make sense, rather than a hamfisted blanket mandate.

The LCA of PV solar is a net positive. The footprint is thus good.

The grid needs to evolve, and perhaps it will evolve faster with this kind of initiative putting more pressure on it.

Won't this new law actually disincentivize more affordable housing?

If the cost of the PV is now baked into the mortgage, then depending on payback periods, interest rates, etc., the reductions in utility costs may meet or exceed the increase in your typical monthly home payment. This could effectively make housing more affordable via lower electrical bills.

Without knowing the numbers, I'm really just speculating, though; my point is just that it's not a given that this will increase everyone's cost of living.

In the hearing someone cited the numbers of $40 increase in mortgage cost and $80 of savings per month

But only if the current design of utility rates remains the same. But it won't, because utilities are regulated monopolies which are permitted to recoup the costs of their investments. So, they will lower the price of power during the day, and raise it during the night.

Residential electricity is less than half of the electricity used in California. Solar may slow down the electrical generation growth needs, but I doubt it will shut down any generators. (Except for some peak usage gas generators).


Your point is that regulation is needed for people to make decisions that will save them more money. Basic econ/finance will tell you this isn't how the world works.

Well, the simplified Econ 101 models (which might be described as “basic econ”) will tell you that, but actual studies of human behavior will tell you those models don't represent reality in broad swathes of real economic activity.

Can you link some studies that prove people in broad swathes of the economy need to be forced to make profitable decisions on an individual case-by-case basis?

I've studied behavioral economics. Not what I asked for

If you can't get a mortgage for your solar installation, all the basic econ in the world won't help you pay the upfront cost. Bundling it into construction fixes that gap.

If it were cheaper to pay back the principal and interest on your solar installation than continue paying your present electricity costs, then it would be profitable to take out the loan and you'd do it. Lenders would be willing to make this loan... they'd make money here versus utility companies.

"Bundling it into construction" as in whoever builds the house pays the upfront cost of the solar installation? This would inevitably pass the cost on through increasing the value of the home. So homes in CA will be harder to afford and mortgages will carry larger payments.

Sure electricity costs will go down some amount to marginally offset the increased mortgage payment. But to definitively claim they will go down _more_ than mortgage payments rise is a ridiculous claim in my opinion because implicit in that claim is the assumption that everyone is missing out on this way to save money and needs the government to impose this mandate for them to realize it.

> Lenders would be willing to make this loan

I think that is an unfounded assumption. It's hard to get an extra loan on top of a mortgage, even if you have a very good use for it. That's why passing the cost on through is not a neutral effect, but a helpful one.

Your argument is unfounded. There are plenty of solar power lenders willing to finance such purchases. Saying that passing the cost through a single larger loan makes it significantly easier to swallow is completely illogical and implies people don't like making/saving money.

My cynical side would say that the California housing market is already so completely fucked, with only millionaires and Chinese expats able to buy new houses, that if there's no chance of getting it fixed (and with SB827 dead, that seems to be the case) one might as well do this to get something useful from the situation. It's like a tax on the 1% that funds renewable energy programs.

I'd rather have cheap housing, but if the NIMBY's are going to have their way, I can at least extract more money from them for useful purposes.

California is not just LA and San Francisco. People wonder why rural voters vote differently.

Imagine if "winner takes all" weren't the strategy used to elect officials.

> if there's no chance of getting it fixed (and with SB827 dead, that seems to be the case)

The actual dynamics of the SB827 defeat don't really clearly support that. There is certainly an opportunity for a YIMBY/PHIMBY convergence on density policy.

Death by a million paper cuts

Why not mandate that new homes need to have equivalent solar built somewhere. So I build a home with a 700sqft roof, an additional tax is added that goes towards building 700sqft of solar at a solar farm.

In fact it would be cheaper since installation would be much cheaper on a large scale and solar farm can buy panels in bulk.

There is more than straight out energy efficiency. Nuclear power plants are very energy efficient, but because of their needed financial structure, end up not being very cost effective. Decentralized financing for energy is nice, it improves individual independence and freedom.

I'm not clear on why SB827 high density housing near transit and solar panels for single family homes are mutually exclusive. A solar rooftop on a 4 story high density building is like a rounding error compared to all the other costs. California should be moving forward on both initiatives, no?

The great thing about the requirement is not that it is the absolutely most carbon friendly solution but that it creates a viable alternative to the PG&E monopoly on energy in California. They pretty much can effectively hike prices at will under the current setup. We need to reduce the amount of pricing power of all monopolies via credible competition.

> I'm not clear on why SB827 high density housing near transit and solar panels for single family homes are mutually exclusive.

They don't even seem to be in much tension, much less opposed.

It's definitely a false equivalence.

It may not be the cheapest solution. But it does accomplish some good things. It reduces attic temperatures (and thus cooling demand), and the ecologists I know observe that wind & solar farms contribute to habitat loss, while rooftop solar does not.

I doubt this is accurate. Most California homeowners can save money by going 100% off grid vs. 100% grid which suggests home solar + battery is cheaper than an same panels - increased efficiency + electricity distribution system + billing.

That said, currently it's usually cheaper to stay grid connected vs 100% solar. But, the economics of that can shift around as solar becomes more common.

The principle that a central authority gets to decree how we live, eat, breath, and think is inherently dangerous, especially when it comes with no evident limits.

This decree, of course, does not do all that but instead covers a narrow class consisting of one product (new homes) with one requirement (solar roofs). It does not affect existing homes. It does not affect homes in Nevada, Arizona, or anywhere else in America. It does not affect homes in any other part of the world. It therefore can be guaranteed, in itself, to have the most trivial of all impacts on the real world global environment. But it will have a very real impact on people living in the affected jurisdiction, not the least of which will be severely limiting their choices concerning new homes and also adding to the price they pay for such homes. On top of all that, it empowers politicians and bureaucrats who will be further incentivized to find new ways to limit choices in the future in the name of symbolic gestures done in the name of environmental concerns. Today, new homes. Tomorrow, existing ones. Next week, cars. After that, whatever experts and technocrats decree should be the subject of new coercive restrictions. Perhaps this is justified because of some ideal that it promotes or perhaps it is just a sell out to the solar lobby. But, justified or not, it certainly curtails freedom and choice and for what? A symbolic gesture at best or some hidden less-than-noble purpose at worst.

One could argue that there are definite limits to a state potentially abusing its authority in extending such powers. After all, there is a transcending principle behind it having to do with the environment. Yet, that is a very elastic principle that can be bent and shaped in ways that cannot readily be contained.

And so we are left with less choice, more expense, and prospects for a more restrictive future. It may or may not be good, but the animating principle, unless it is subject to clear limits (which do not appear here) is one that poses self-evident risks for a free society.

It would be interesting to know how many houses are built by developers versus their first occupants. If this is all about what developers do, new home buyers aren't making the decisions anyway. The house is already built.

If the question is whether a developer, local community (via zoning), or the state of California gets to make the decision about what houses in a particular area look like, I don't think I have a strong opinion, since it looks to me like collective, political decision-making either way.

>The principle that a central authority gets to decree how we live, eat, breath, and think is inherently dangerous, especially when it comes with no evident limits.

I don't agree that such an authority is inherently dangerous, this kind of legislation is specifically an example where danger is explicitly reduced.

The below is an attempt to show this isn't just a noble gesture, but that environmental legislation has huge positive impacts, and is exactly the kind of thing we want a state doing.

California generates most of its power through natural gas [1], which the burning of creates smog, which has measureable impacts on life expectancy. Early numbers from China indicate that the difference between highly urbanized areas and less urbanized areas amount to at least 5.5 years of reduced lifespan. [2]

It may surprise you to find out that California, in many heavily populated areas like the Bay Area, where most people are living, actually has worse smog than that in Shanghai [3].

Let's try a simple model and do a back-of-the-envelope calculation of what this means for Americans:

Let's say that in the bay area, the smog is (ass-pulled in direct contradiction to my above source, so we're being conservative) half as bad as in China's urban areas, and therefore longterm exposure to smog reduces life expectancy by 3 years. Let's say that long term, solar panel usage allows California to reduce natural gas burning for power generation, which ultimately reduces smog in a way such that it halves the impact on life expectancy to 1.5 years.

There are 7 million people in the Bay area. If you're willing to buy the above model, you are saving 10.5 million years of human life just in the Bay Area by making the change, before we even begin to discuss external positive environmental impacts and subjective quality of life benefits of smog reduction.

Last thought? The average human lifespan in America is 79 years[4]. If the above model is correct, such a change is equivalent to saving 132,000 lives. You don't notice that all this life is being lost because the effects are so diffuse.

There are times to leap to your pitchforks about the harms of the state, but environmentalism definitely isn't one of them.

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Energy_in_California

[2] https://www.ucsusa.org/clean-energy/coal-and-other-fossil-fu...

[3] https://www.ozy.com/acumen/think-chinas-pollution-is-bad-try...


Good night. Once upon a time in 1983, my grandparents bought a mobile home and put it out on rural property. They paid $300 for the water company to install a water meter and about $1500 for a septic tank install.

Now I'm trying to do the same thing (and on the same property). The water meter is $5,000 (cash only in full), and the septic tank is $15,000. If I was also required to have solar, I'd really be screwed...

Starting to think that working in Tech isn't even worth it anymore. We don't have big government lobbyists making rules to make software more complicated 'just because' every year and thus driving cost up (and making me more money). If my math is right, I'm pretty sure per my sad story above, I'm estimating that the septic people I am trying to work with are pulling in $3k-$5k+ (profit) a week in septic installs (its only a husband and wife outfit and in an area where rent is less than $1k a month....)

Just in case anyone was curious (I was) $1500 in 1983 is $3758.34 in 2018

That means the real cost of installing a septic tank increased 4x.

Although, we don't know how similar the two projects are. Maybe one has more rock to dig through, the tank is farther away, or new tanks are better than 1980s tanks in some ways. There are many possible answers other than the cost of installing a septic tank outpaced inflation.

>Although, we don't know how similar the two projects are

They are similar in that the requirements for tank size are the same and the dirt is the same (same property). What is different is caused by the regulations. The style put in in 1983 is a traditional 1000 gallon tank going out to a leach field with about 100ft of perforated pipe (known as a 'traditional' system').

But traditional systems are now banned for this soil type (clay content > 50%, even though they still work fine if designed right). The current price for a traditional system is now about $5500. But since it is banned, I have to install a 'Evapotranspirative (ET) system' which involves digging two 20'x80' pits and filling it with a special 'sandy loam' soil (which is not native to the area and has to be trucked in) and then running the perforated pipe in that. It's two to three times the work and an extra $2k - $4k in soil costs.

Environmental regulations are more strict today too -- one corner of my grandparents (large) yard was perpetually swampy and us kids were warned to stay away -- turned out that it was runoff from an uphill neighbor's septic leach field, and it had been like that for decades.

I don't think such a thing would be possible with today's regulations. I'm not even sure it was acceptable 30 years ago, but my grandparents never complained about it and were on good terms with the neighbors.

Or maybe he needs additional quotes...

> We don't have big government lobbyists making rules to make software more complicated 'just because' every year

Yes, we do, they just focus on specific large software markets (in the last couple decades, health IT has been a huge area for this.)

Also, Turbotax.


If I was also required to have solar, I'd really be screwed...

So, what do you do for electricity then? Most people developing rural property near where I live love solar, they can't get enough, as it lets them go off-grid and avoid paying electricity hookup fees.

I'm not that rural. The price for the electric run is $350 for new poles and the service is about $0.10 p/kwh. I'm fine with adding solar. I simply don't have the money right now. And I am not getting a mortgage as the 'just add it to your mortgage' attitude is what has lead to so many (non protested) price hikes in the first place.

So adding 'just another' $10k to the price means I get to wait so many extra months to save money before I can even build.

If you're going to refuse bog standard conservative financing options that have been used for centuries, your difficulties are mainly self-imposed.

I don't know how standard a mortgage was 30+ years ago. I do know the interest rates were higher and they weren't handed out like candy as they are now. My grandfather bought a brand new house in 1972 for $12,000, paid cash. And my parents built their first house in 1990 and paid cash as well. They moved and built several other houses all with cash as well. Is it too much to ask that I be able to pay cash for a not so great but brand new mobile home?

they probably have a lot of overhead for the following things:

office rental, increasing cost of septic tank hardware itself increased environmental regulations increase cost of permitting (money and time) with local government impact fees maybe increased insurance costs

people are making money on this, I just doubt its your tank installer

> $3k-$5k+ (profit) a week in septic installs

Did you factor in healthcare?

No as I am comparing apples to apples here as I am 1099, paid by the hour, and they are a sole proprietor. Yes they have different expenses than I do, I buy a $300 laptop off of ebay every couple of years whereas they probably buy a $30,000 backhoe every couple of decades. But still... a little blue collar work with more and more regulations making it take longer and be more profitable is starting to sound lucrative.

Is it regulations or other rent seeking that have caused inflation? Do you think the cost of living increases in your he past decade are due to regulations?

Solar is tech though? And there was definitely lobbying by the solar industry involved here.

If septic installs are so profitable, perhaps you should get into the business.

Why do you need a new water meter?

Most places will want one water meter per house and that was the case with me as I was adding a new house to existing property. But since they wanted $5k up front, I ended up tying into the meter that was already there for a relative's house, which is against their rules but oh well.

Dig a well instead?

A well is for fresh water while septic is for... well not so fresh water. I have considered doing the whole job myself (I mean how hard can digging with a backhoe be?!) and violating all the regulations that make is so expensive, but whether you dump your RV's holding tank into a protected water zone or install an illegal septic system, you are still dealing with the environmental health department and they won't be pleased if/when they find out.

Your septic systems needs to be professionally designed, but you can hire that separate from the install.

In fact I would advise you to hire the design first separately and only after you have a design get bids on the install. My grandpa got bids from several design/installers, and only after the contract was signed did he discover that all the design/install bids in the county were for a more expensive mound system. My uncle next door learned and hired the design first and then tracked down the one installed in the county that would do the cheaper system that was designed.

That is what I am trying to do. The designer doesn't seem to be helping much with getting the price down though. He is basically just following the state requirements exactly and not putting any thought into any exemptions that might lower the price.

No shit. Digging a well, in addition to septic. 15k is fucking stupid for a septic tank but it's California. 5k for a well would be ridiculous as well.

So digging a well, would save over 5k for water, plus the monthly charges. I guess I should have specified. I thought saying "Dig a well" was relatively self explanatory in the fact it would likely save money not only in the short run but over the long run as well.

I just realized what you meant by "dig a well", I forgot what I had written in my own comment... Since this is family property that already had a house on it (I'm putting mine behind that one), I just tied into the existing meter. Thought I had saved my self $5k and was going to build a nice porch with that, but now I guess I get to spend it on septic...

Still need septic.

Everyone who’s long CA real estate can bank it because the government is doing its best to ensure that no new housing gets built.

Gg “environmentalist” Sierra Club.

FTA specifically larger housing developers have been preparing for this for years—along with the solar lobby. So dumb, CA deserves to go bankrupt and be overrun by homelessness.

It's perpetual employment for Sacramento though.

Step 1: Lobby for legislation that slaps an extra $30-40k on top of every newly constructed unit.

Step 2: Lament about the lack of affordable housing, conduct exhaustive studies to pin down the reasons.

Government's view of the economy could be summed up in a few short phrases: If it moves, tax it. If it keeps moving, regulate it. And if it stops moving, subsidize it.

-- Ronald Reagan

I thought about that. But recently evaluated panels on my 3000sqft home and the cost was $16k. Assuming that average installations are for less capacity, an average of $10k increase would probably not impact new house construction. Especially since the cost is offset by low energy payments and increase in home value.

Increase is home value is not always desirable, especially if you are tight securing a mortgage. With higher interest rate, this is going to be a no-no real soon.

So you can't mandate that neighbourhoods build taller buildings to curb the astronomical rise in real estate prices but making new buildings (and by association old buildings) more expensive is easy.

California, what are you doing? Fix your housing problem!

SF actually limits building height in most areas I believe. Every time we put another one of these laws on the books, it's another obstacle blocking the way for affordable housing that probably won't ever get reversed

San Fran should look like Hong Kong with the demand that it currently has.

California doesn't force local SF zoning.

Solar power is cost effective in California.

I'm a homeowner in southern California. I've looked into it and a solar system would cost me about $15k and it would pay itself off after about 8 years.

However that assumes constant price conditions. If there's a glut of solar installations, prices for daytime generation may fall to where it no longer offsets all evening/night consumption. Once that happens you're forced to either invest in extremely expensive battery storage, or the breakeven date gets radically extended out into the future.

Overall, it seems like a pretty "meh" investment. The people doing it are the environmental True Believers(tm). I'd rather put the money into a new bathroom at this point.

Though prices can drop and even go negative sometimes it's never a long term thing. There is kind of a price floor in the market, if prices get too low energy intensive businesses will move into the state, eg. aluminum smelters, bitcoin miners, and so on.

I posted in the other thread about why I think this policy is a really good idea: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=17008950

Also it's only for new homes. You can still get that new bathroom.

What this does is force new homeowners to make an iffy investment that they probably wouldn't otherwise make given a choice in the free market, but cleverly hides it in the price of new construction.

If it was such a slam-dunk great idea, everyone would be installing solar systems right now but they aren't because it isn't clear that it makes any financial sense.

Solar panels, themselves, are incredibly cheap, partly because China is dumping their overproduction on the market, partly because we’ve just gotten really good at making them.

Most of the price of installing solar is the labor for getting the roofers and electrician to come out, plus in some jurisdictions an architectural study.

All of those costs come down dramatically if you’re already bringing in roofers and electricians for the normal process of building a home.

Additionally, PV panels themselves have near zero maintenance costs, and dramatically reduce maintenance/replacement costs of the underlying roof.

As a result, it is just a gargantuan failure of the market that all new homes aren’t, today, built with PV panels.

This seems like a great correction to that market failure.

For anyone stumbling across this thread, the above is wrong (possibly intentionally so). The cost of the panels and related hardware are roughly 30-50% of the total installed job cost (for me, roughly $6-8k of the $15k total). The rest is standard labor cost for installation, electrical, etc. None of that is unreasonable. If I was doing 100% of the labor myself (which is impossible because I'm not a licensed electrician), it would still cost me nearly $10k.

mercutio2 is indirectly making the claim that PV installers are inflating the prices. He does this in an attempt to frame the investment as being better than it is, by claiming it's much cheaper than it really is. This is disingenuous.

He then makes the claim that economies of scale will magically make it even cheaper, because the roofers and electricians will already be there to build the home. This is absurd. Just because they are already building the house does not mean the craftsman will do the PV work for free. It will take them X additional hours to do it and that costs money, just about as much as it would cost for a house that has already been built.

Lastly he makes the totally false claim that PV reduces roof maintenance/repair costs. Nothing could be further from the truth! PV actually increases replacement costs, dramatically! For example:

1. https://www.quora.com/How-do-solar-panels-affect-roof-shingl...

2. https://www.buildings.com/article-details/articleid/19851/ti...

This California regulation is a boondoggle that is being done for social/political reasons, pushed by the environmentalist lobby. It is a way of forcing consumers to purchase something they wouldn't otherwise do under the free market. Whenever you hear someone say "market failure", chances are they want the government to force you to buy something they like.

Wow, you really think I’m speaking in bad faith. I assure you I am not. I am certainly not making any of the indirect claims you accuse me of.

Certainly it’s true that a poorly architected solar panel system can be bad for your roof. If you know you have to design the roof for solar panels, that’s much less expensive to do in advance than to try to mitigate bad roofing materials after the fact.

For reference, I just installed solar panels on my roof. The raw cost of the panels was 25% of the full installation cost. The architect study was another 5%. Hardware to fasten the panels to my theoretically solar ready roof was another 8% of the cost.

The rest was labor.

I am shocked you think it’s controversial that dramatically less labor is required to do something at construction time than as a retrofit.

This doesn’t require any economies of scale (although I think those will also appear with this bill). It just requires that coordination costs that are already being paid at construction time not increase dramatically when adding solar panels to the list of things planned for.

Shading and cooling dark roofs is, in fact, a good way to reduce the weathering of a roof. They don’t do much for metal roofs, and they are signally inappropriate on several types of shingle roofs, but torch down roofs, which are very common in California, are in fact likely to be improved by panels, not degraded.

The contention that talking about market failures implies someone trying to sell you something doesn’t seem like it lines up well with the economists I’m familiar with, but you know, at the end of the day, we’re going to have to see how much actual builders in California charge once this bill is in full effect.

I’m perfectly willing to admit I was wrong if, in fact, the TCO of solar panels ends up being enough to make this other than an extremely good bit of legislation.

The argument for me around solar was more that I expect fossil fuels to become vastly more expensive in the lifetime of the panels.

I agree the risk profile is wrong, so I offloaded the risk to SolarCity for this iteration (25 years), but if I'm still in the house when those panels expire I will almost certianly need to re-roof, and I'm hoping solar tiles are a no-brainer by that point.

22 years from now? I expect fossil fuels to be crazy expensive. I expect solar tech and home storage options to be commoditized, and I haven't seen anything to make me thing I'm wrong about any of that.

The only way fossil fuels are going to skyrocket in price is if regulatory burdens push their prices up artificially. Yes, we use up oil and natural gas every year, but we also get more efficient at finding and tapping deeper reserves, and there are few limits on that in the next 25 years. "Peak" resources just aren't a thing we actually need to worry about in the foreseeable future.

"regulatory burdens push their prices up artificially.."

That has been known to happen in California with PG&E and CPUC. Doing a quick Google for PG&E rate increase:


That's a good point. If this did actually reduce stress on the energy grid it may minimize solar savings for those who paid for it.

So I guess putting up shade trees to reduce cooling costs isn't a thing any more? Is it net positive to use solar panels? Trees and houses just won't go together any more?

You can still put a tree up. You will also be required to put solar panels underneath it.

There are actually exceptions in the law that say if you have shade trees you don't need solar.

Thanks, I noticed the article hedged a bit but didn't go into details.

Solar panels are vastly more effective than a shade tree for keeping a home cool.

The geometry of trees and solar panels changes with latitude, but in California you can still have tall trees fairly close to your house while using solar panels. Further, roof panels can also shade your roof though with proper insulation that should not be significant.

Are you taking into account carbon sequestration and oxygen production "features" of trees instead of net carbon cost ?

The rules make explicit exception for shaded roofs, see section 150.1(c)14 ...


That's a good point... and pretty sad actually...

Edit: And I can't help but think of the driven up cost of roof repairs. So 10-15 years down the road when you get a leak in your roof.. now you got to pay labor to pull the panels before you can even repair the roof...

Solar panels increase roof structural strength through the racking used for mounting and increase roof material longevity by directly shielding the roof from solar irradiation.

The problem is still there though. Roofs can and do leak.

And your panels disconnect and pop off relatively easily for patching or shingle replacement.

Let’s not argue against taking bold action when bold actions are required because it’s inconvenient, especially when this is a net financial win for homeowners (you’re just trading a high utility bill for a slightly higher mortgage payment). It’s a better ROI than the S&P500.

Is this a net financial win?

Presumably, homeowners have been doing the math and adding solar panels if it is a net financial win. Now, homeowners are required to do it whether or not it's a net financial win.

ie. the new solar installations either don't make economic sense, or it made sense all along, but homeowners were too stupid to do the math.

It didn't make sense all along. 10 years ago this would have been crazy because PV hardware was so much more expensive then.

A lot of people do fail to do the math. Many people are not quantitatively analytical, even in situations where such analysis is in their material self-interest.

A few years ago I encountered an engineer who was really angry about lightbulb minimum efficiency standards. "I already switched to LED bulbs where it made economic sense. Anyone with a brain did! Now the government is forcing me to buy these expensive bulbs for places where they run for less than 10 hours a year, like my attic. It's worse for the environment too when you consider the additional embodied energy in LED manufacturing."

His technical analysis was perfectly sound. His social analysis wasn't. A huge number of people won't do the smart thing as soon as it becomes the smart thing. (Or maybe ever. My mom stockpiled incandescent bulbs in anticipation of efficiency standard upgrades. She also complains about how high her electric bill is, after running 8 incandescent bulbs for several hours a day in the kitchen ceiling lighting...)

Much to the annoyance of people who are perfectly able and willing to do their own analysis, it can take too much effort to judge who's rationally avoiding higher up-front costs because they won't pay off in the long run and who's just being myopic. A one-size-fits-all rule forces smarties to do something worse as the price of forcing fools to do something better. There's an aggregate benefit because the fools outnumber the smarties several times over.

>It didn't make sense all along.

Let me rephrase.

What I mean is, "or it would make sense to do it, but homeowners will be too stupid to do the math." My hypothetical is about people who 1) would not install panels but 2) installing panels would be in their individual interest.

I agree that PV technology has improved in price/efficiency.

>Many people are not quantitatively analytical, even in situations where such analysis is in their material self-interest.

That's a fair point. You're entirely right - some people will not think about it. Some people will think about it but be wrong.

My intuition is that people are still better at making the the decision themselves than if the decision is made legislatively. Let me explain why.

Firstly, I'm skeptical of residential solar. Why? Installation costs (on average) 59 cents/watt. [1] This would be cheaper if it were on the ground rather than on a roof. There is lots of cheap land (assuming that you don't care that it's out in the boonies.) You could put solar panels there instead. However, there is an incentive to put solar panels on a roof: net metering. The utility must buy the residential solar, even if it's useless to them. I think that this is a misaligned incentive, and it might be more efficient to have huge fields of solar panels than to have solar panels on each house.

Second, this seems like something with limited political accountability. It seems like they could have created an alternate way of complying: pay the government enough money to build an equivalent amount of solar somewhere else. Then, you can remove the exception for shaded houses/tall buildings, because they have a non-stupid way of complying. This seems like it's better for everyone involved. However, it would then be clear how much money the policy costs, rather than "homes have gotten more expensive, but it's hard to pin down how much of that is caused by the policy and how much is other factors."

[1]: http://emp.lbl.gov/sites/all/files/german-us-pv-price-ppt.pd...

Good points. I'm ambivalent about this requirement myself. From a technical perspective, I wonder what they're going to do in new subdivisions where every house is overproducing at certain times of the day/year. From a financial perspective I wonder how net metering rates are going to be pushed down when a lot more houses are participating. And I also agree that large-scale solar farms are going to be more cost-effective.

But I'm not totally against this change for a couple of reasons. One is that one of my ecologist friends is really alarmed at California's use of heretofore undeveloped desert land for solar farms when rooftop capacity is so underutilized. "Just because it's not full of trees doesn't mean it's a disposable ecosystem." Now personally I think the tradeoffs are worth it to get more solar built faster and cheaper, but it's not a universal perspective. A second related reason is that I've seen large solar farms in other regions prompt community pushback from people who dislike their appearance -- similar to, if less severe than, people objecting to visible wind farms. Those objections don't come up with distributed rooftop systems.

Right now the annual energy production per dollar of upfront cost is much lower from rooftop PV systems than from large-scale utility PV systems. If California installation costs can get down to German or Australian level, the cost effectiveness will be closer to (though still less than) large solar farms. There are reasons to believe that making rooftop systems mandatory will drive American costs down closer to German/Australian costs. For example, according to the presentation you linked, German rooftop PV installers spend $0.07/watt on customer acquisition. American installers spend $0.69/watt. If every new house is required to have PV, I expect acquisition costs to go down significantly; installers can court builders instead of trying to persuade one homeowner at a time. And investment into producing a design and a bid won't ultimately be rejected with "we decided not to add solar after all." (Though it could be rejected with "the other installer made a better offer.") Having every rooftop designed to support solar from the outset also makes installation less complicated, which should lower labor costs over retrofit-installs on 20th century housing stock.

Government also pushed the CFL (fluoret) disaster (economic and environmental mercury) on us for 10 years. There's a reason centrally planned economies tend to collapse

but homeowners were too stupid to do the math

This is kind of true. Builders will do things that lower the up front price and long term value of the home, because that's how their incentives are setup.

Why is "bold action" required? This entire concept seems flawed to me.

Run away climate change caused by global CO2 emissions?

And how is California going to reverse that exactly? Even if this happened on a federal level, most houses would still be using fossil fuels and most of the world wouldn't even bat an eye.

The same way California moved the entire world forward on car emissions. LA smog used to be so bad you couldn’t see the other side of the street, reactionaries predicted that doing anything would destroy the economy, but they wrote laws requiring cleaner cars anyway. Since everyone wanted to sell to California, they did the R&D to make it work and eventually economics won out against the cost of making different models for different states. The economy was destroyed right into being the 5th largest in the world.

This takes a ton of usage away from conventional power and more importantly it tells multiple industries it’s safe to make big investments because California will buy your solar panels, build your designs, etc. Everyone benefits directly from those economies of scale and research investments and indirectly from being able to pass similar laws in their states when it turns out not to wreck California.

You continue to incentivize the generation and consumption of renewables until you’ve put fossil generation in a position where it’s no longer profitable to operate, thereby accelerating the transition to renewables and storage?

It’s pretty straightforward. A single actor acting alone doesn’t solve the problem, everyone taking small actions does.

The same way California apparently solved the cancer-causing components issue: by feel-good edict.

California didn't mandate material changes, just stupid labels.

One good hail storm would be a much more expensive fix. Insurance paid nearly $10k for my new roof after hail ruined it. Solar panels would have tripled that cost.

Maybe PV would have protected your roof underneath (if it was not integrated, that is)

Using an expensive and sensitive item to protect a cheap one... might not be the smartest move :-/

> So I guess putting up shade trees to reduce cooling costs isn't a thing any more?

Trees are still great for shading windows and unlikely to interfere with panels in that role, and it takes a much bigger and older tree to shade a roof, anyway.

Trees very rarely go very far over your roof, otherwise it'd be a legitimate hazard.

Trees don't have to go over your roof to shade your house.

Solar panels == sexy, shade trees == not sexy.

Also, in my area residents see trees as dangerous to their investment. New neighbors (second home buyers) cut down trees like they're invasive weeds, all because of the remote chance that one of them might, some day, hit the house.

You should teach them about insurance...

California loves requiring anything that will reduce the number of homes they actually build.

Limiting the amount of single family homes? Sure, and we should be.

Rooftop solar is a drop in the bucket for multi-family buildings.

one could argue this is accepting that reality and taxing those wealthy enough to build homes.

I'm having a hard time finding a news article with links to the actual standard, and secondary sources like this Bloomberg article are omitting important details. Does this represent the standard that was adopted:



In particular, I wonder what the minimum system size is, in kilowatts. Reporting household system size in "dollars" is a poor metric because PV dollars-per-watt is changing rapidly.

The source that I linked above says "Minimum PV sizing by code will rely on results from the energy consultant’s Title 24 compliance calculations." Can anyone explain what's required to comply with Title 24? I'm looking for answers in physical units rather than currency units.

FWIW, Germany and Australia have fully-installed residential rooftop solar costs-per-watt less than half of that in the US. I'm not sure where the big cost gap comes from -- Germany and Australia have decent wages for labor and safety codes too. The hardware is commoditized and globalized. If California could match Australian costs-per-watt then this proposal would add significantly less to the initial cost of a new house and significantly increase lifetime cost savings vs. using only power from the grid.

EDIT: it looks like the final adopted proposal is 17-BSTD-02, rather than the earlier 17-BSTD-01 that I linked above. Here's the final one:


The final version says even less about minimum system size. I suppose that detail is hidden in one of the 14 documents it incorporates by reference.

> Can anyone explain what's required to comply with Title 24?

I help write software that implements calculations related to Title 24 compliance, so I'll give answering this a shot.

It's described in this[1] 289 page document (only like a fifth of it applies to residential construction). It covers a lot of things, to say the least.

At a very simplified and high level, it works like this: There are two overall ways of meeting the energy efficiency requirements. One says "meet these material specs" (prescriptive). The other says "be at least this efficient" (performance).

The prescriptive approach has requirements describing things like all walls must be at least this well insulated and any heating/cooling system fans must be at least this efficient.

The performance approach does a performance simulation for both the proposed house design and for that same design, but built to the prescriptive spec. The design passes if the proposed design uses less energy in the simulation.

The document you've linked says both approaches will now require solar panels (so you can't "just" be energy efficient).

My guess is that you'll have to add at least as much solar as the current minimum required to get credit for doing so, which is described in section 2.2.3 in this document[2].

[1] http://www.energy.ca.gov/2015publications/CEC-400-2015-037/C...

[2] http://www.energy.ca.gov/business_meetings/2016_packets/2016...

I believe section 150.1(c)14 of ...


... actually specifies the requirements.

Thank you. Quoting the relevant section below:

14. Photovoltaic Requirements. All low-rise residential buildings shall have a photovoltaic (PV) system meeting the minimum qualification requirements as specified in Joint Appendix JA11, with annual electrical output equal to or greater than the dwelling’s annual electrical usage as determined by Equation 150.1-C:

kWPV = (CFA * A) / 1000 + (NDwell * B)


kWPV = kWdc size of the PV system

CFA = Conditioned floor area

NDwell = Number of dwelling units

A = Adjustment factor from Table 150.1-C

B = Dwelling adjustment factor from Table 150.1-C

(I'm not going to try to copy the table into this comment.)

I also found this document digging around recent additions to the public docket site:


It says "The specific minimum size of the system is based on the size of the building and number of dwellings and can vary between 2 and 7 kilowatts output per dwelling..."

Which is less specific, but it's nice to see upper and lower minimum capacity requirements without having to consult a table.

An energy economist on why it's a bad idea: http://faculty.haas.berkeley.edu/borenste/cecweisenmiller180.... Basically, rooftop solar is less capital-efficient than large solar or wind farms, so we can save more carbon/$ by doing grid-scale generation.

I don't know enough about the energy market to weigh in on this proposal, but that response is the epitome of the perfect is the enemy of the good. It is presenting a false choice. Getting something like this approved is much easier politically than large solar and wind farms. Sometimes the politically expedient solution is the proper choice over the ideal but politically unrealistic solution.

Politically expedient but dramatically inefficient and less effective is... still dramatically inefficient and less effective. The idea that it's clear that this is "good" relies on a bunch of assumptions about carbon costs that haven't been made. It's not sufficient to say "fossil fuels are bad, solar is good," because then you make stupidly inefficient decisions that limit your overall capacity to tackle the big problem.

The problem is that "dramatically inefficient and less effective" is relative. People are comparing it to some scenario that is simply not going to happen like the state funding large solar and wind farms. Once again, I don't know whether this proposal is good or not. I just think it is a mistake to to oppose proposals that move us in the right direction solely because they don't move us in that direction quick enough or far enough.

I'm thankful that state funding for large solar and wind farms is not going to happen, because there's little that could guarantee a worse or less efficient long-term result.

As long as carbon costs can't be priced into the market, the solutions are going to be short-sighted, politically motivated/maintained, and inefficient.

> Sometimes the politically expedient solution is the proper choice over the ideal but politically unrealistic solution.

Why wouldn't that always be the case? What's different about this case where this expedient choice is proper but other's aren't?

We should be unwilling to compromise on certain issues. Civil rights is one that many people would point to that should not be compromised. It is one reason why Hillary Clinton was criticized by progressives during the 2016 campaign for previously being against gay marriage and pro civil unions. That was the politically expedient position at the time, but it was also a compromise of morals.

There is an aspect of this that is not just strictly about carbon/$ and/or carbon/watthr.

There is an aspect of creating a viable alternative in California to the 'charge what you feel like monopoly that leads to annual increases even as costs to produce go down': https://www.mercurynews.com/2017/12/08/pge-customers-face-hi...

This should be obvious to anyone knowing anything about economics. It boggles my mind that a progressive (aka smart legislators) country like CA would produce such an obviously bad policy.

I feel like the real motivation behind this is that far too many people believe that the hard part of getting solar panels adopted is in finding places to put them. So this law "solves" the problem. But that's never been the real problem. It's arguing about the color of the bike shed when the real mover of solar panels is price and output. Price isn't addressed here and you should expect installing it everywhere will lower the average output of installed panels (since it'll be put on non-optimal shady locations too).

I think this just falls under 'practical politics.' It's a revenue-neutral tax on a relatively wealthy demographic. Politicians get to be associated with something perceived as good by their voters.

I don't think a deeper analysis is required. Anything that meets those requirements will also be passed.

I haven't been able to locate the specifics of the bill, but my expectation would be that the regulation doesn't apply if there isn't sufficient sun exposure or rooftop area to justify the solar installation.

Yeah, it's looking at this from a demand-side perspective rather than a supply-side one that's arguably much more relevant

Giving the price of a house in the Bay Area $10K is a rounding error.

I am all in favor of this. Scale will only drive the cost of the tech down. TX should follow this as should AZ, NM and every other state that is mostly "sunshine".

I am schedule to get a Tesla Solar roof. Almost seems like I should wait another year or 2.

Everyone should be mandated to use facebook. This will drive the cost of data-mining down, including cost of elections, marketing and use of police force. This is required for all people born after 1990, older do not need to comply.

As somebody who has installed rooftop solar in California in two houses I owned, I think this is a bad idea. Mandating solar solution means the one you get with the new house would be the cheapest (and therefore crappiest) money could buy and an inspection could pass. Most consumers have no idea how to evaluate solar panels, and most would not walk out of a good deal because of solar panels. Which means huge incentive for homebuilders to cut costs. And once you've got it, you are stuck with it - replacing is would have huge costs. And, of course, I have pre-pay it with my mortgage.

Instead, I'd very much like to choose a provider by myself, with a good reputation, and choose what kind of deal I can get on it, what are payment options, etc. There are a lot of options on the market. Pre-packaging the deal cuts off these options and takes the decision from me - unless I build the house by myself, I will no longer have an option of negotiating and choosing these things independently from the house itself.

Solar panels on new homes seems like a relatively low priority - considering they can always be added at any time, and it's not even necessarily the best strategy for all home/living situations. Not to mention CA has plenty of desert land to cover with PV panels.

California should instead be focusing on things like requiring rentals to provide EV charging for all tenants.

Nearly half of CA residents don't own their homes. Until some initiative forces their landlords to install EV infrastructure, the majority of these people won't even consider buying an EV at their next car purchase.

It strikes me as an urgent priority to remove all barriers to people owning EVs en masse, especially considering how long automobiles last. A major selling point of EVs is always finding your vehicle at 100% in the morning. Tenants who have to find places away from home to charge their vehicles for 1+ hours will rarely buy one.

So, a non-economic, burdensome measure instead of a carbon tax, which directly addresses the problem. With SB827 failing, I'm feeling good about leaving California.

Sounds like a taking for everyone that has a lot on the north side of a hill or nieghbors with tall trees that block the sun. I think a growth industry is going to be California solar lawyers that fight for rights to open paths to sunshine.

How will this change the discussions around net metering? Part of the offset of costs for solar were supposed to be the ability to sell excess back into the grid. And what happens when the grid no longer benefits from new electricity generation? If the new requirement is just for panels without storage it seems like a long-term transfer of risk and cost from energy companies to home owners.


Net metering isn't compatible with this mandate.

Here are the problems with individuals having solar panels:

1) It's not enough power. Yet. So you'll need to draw from the grid.

2) Sometimes it's cloudy and you need to draw from the grid.

Given you need to still draw from the grid, but aren't paying as much... what does that do to the quality or maintenance cost per use for the grid? Do people who aren't on solar gets charged more per kW/h? A move to push them to get solar? Do people with solar get hit with a "grid maintenance" fee for not paying their fair share of grid maintenance (previously built in to their electric bill)? Do we raise taxes? Do we let infrastructure crumble?

I think solar is great, no question. But better if capacity is built through solar plants, that use the existing grid, rather than mandated as part of individual home construction.

Plus... and this is the part that bugs me... does this mean we can't build houses in the shade? Will we have to tear down old trees, or build taller houses than our neighbors have, in order to meet some quota for energy production... what if I want to have a roof-top patio? What if a new technology comes along... let's call it "Solar 2"... and it's better. Are we forbidden to use it until the laws are changed? What if it's just better in my opinion for my life... can I still use it, or am I locked in to whatever standards the State of California deems is best for everyone?

Yeah this law is going to suck.

It's all about grid capacity and efficiency, not personal cost savings. Think about rooftop solar from the utility perspective. On peak load days in the summer, they will have a more stable grid when AC units are being offset in real time by the very sunlight that is causing them to be needed. Even a cheap 1kW system with no batteries on every house would make a massive difference.

> Given you need to still draw from the grid, but aren't paying as much...

Right on. Much of the cost of being on the grid is the grid itself. My power company is a co-op. They aren't out to rob me, but the monthly fee just to be hooked up is pretty high. Here it is because the population is thin and a good percentage of homes are vacation/cabin, so they aren't using very much for many months, but they want it to work when they show up. I think it might be similar when people quit using as much on a regular basis, but still want the power company to provide on a whim (theirs or nature). The cost to be on the grid, even if you don't ever use it is going to rise.

This is interesting to me, because I've been advocating for a similar law for a while now, with a few crucial differences:

I propose we make a law that says any home that sells for greater than the Freddie Mac super conforming loan limit (currently $679,650) must be retrofitted to have a net energy draw of zero or less from the grid (with rules about exceptions for shade and roof angles and whatnot).

This would solve a lot of problems with this bill: It would exempt all the folks who are selling cheap homes throughout the state, it would apply to both old and new homes, and it allows for new technologies that don't exist yet or are cost prohibitive, instead of require solar panels.

It wouldn't really affect prices much, because there is already a flattening at the Freddie Mac limits, and when you get to the super conforming level, a solar install only represents 5% or less today (but I imagine the prices would fall with economies of scale).

> must be retrofitted to have a net energy draw of zero or less from the grid

How would you do this, when a huge percentage of that engergy draw comes from appliances that don't get sold with the house?

What you're proposing would likely result in home sellers 'installing' tiny cheap refrigerators and washer/dryer combos that would immediately be thrown out by the home buyers and replaced with the ones they actually want.

> How would you do this, when a huge percentage of that engergy draw comes from appliances that don't get sold with the house?

With rule for a specified list of standard appliances that the draw would be calculated based on the higher of actual consumption of installed appliances (if any) or standard values based on something like mid-range energy star consumption for a specified feature set.

You could base it off of the size of the house or median usage of surrounding homes per square foot, or something similar.

That wouldn't change anything unless you require those tiny cheap appliances to be retained and used by the home buyer. You can't reduce all energy consumption with insulation and shade trees...

No what I'm saying is that the requirements would not account for appliances. It would say "for this size house you must be able to produce this much energy". It won't specify how you produce the energy, just that you must.

Your appliances would be your choice, and your shade, etc. But it would be based on local medians, so that for most people it would be in line.

At what point do tweaks to building codes cross the line from being "minimal acceptable" and into the realm of virtue signalling?

The newer model codes now require fire suppression sprinkler systems to be installed in detached residential structures, which is pretty ludicrous. For homes on a well or without sufficient pressure from municipal source, a water tank in the attic is required!

People don't realize that they may need to purchase special riders on their home insurance as water damage caused by the sprinkler systems may not be covered, while the fire would be. A friend of mine in the fire department reports that these systems get activated more from false alarms than by actual fires, and that many people lose most of what they own. The home owner is not allowed to turn off the sprinklers, so the fire department has to go out and do it.

Look at Vancouver which banned the door knob [0] as it is hard to manipulate for a disabled person. New homes need to install lever style handles. I would argue they should have just provided subsidies for disabled persons to retrofit a home they move into. Instead all new homes need lever style handles, most unnecessarily.

0 - https://www.ctvnews.ca/canada/no-doorknobs-allowed-in-new-va...

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