California becomes first U.S. state to require solar panels on new homes

NEW YORK/LOS ANGELES May 9 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - B uilders in California will be required to fit solar panels on most new homes from 2020 under a new rule adopted on Wednesday, the first of its kind in the United States.

The far-reaching standards, adopted unanimously by the five-member California Energy Commission, require that new residential buildings in the state be equipped with the panels.

“We cannot let Californians be in homes that are essentially the residential equivalent of gas guzzlers,” Energy Commissioner David Hochschild said ahead of the vote.

Ethan Elkind, director of the climate program at the University of California at Berkeley’s School of Law, said the new rule would lower the price of solar panels nationwide as manufacturers tapped into California’s huge consumer base.

“This is pretty landmark,” he said by phone. “It helps basically provide a market for solar.”

The United States’ most populous state has frequently been at odds with President Donald Trump’s aggressive rollback of policies to combat climate change. Governor Jerry Brown is planning a global climate summit this September.

Nine percent of single-family detached homes in the state of 39.5 million people currently have solar panels, according to a 2017 U.S. Department of Energy report the Energy Commission cited.

The renewable energy push is expected to cut California’s household emissions, which stood at 12 percent of the state’s total emissions in 2015.

Most stem from natural gas-generated electricity, a process that emits heat-trapping carbon dioxide.

Constructing a home in accordance with the new rules will add about $9,500 in immediate costs, according to estimates by the Energy Commission.

It will save homeowners about $19,000 in energy and maintenance costs over 30 years, Energy Commission spokeswoman Amber Pasricha Beck told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

Buildings that are shaded or have a roof that is too small to accommodate panels will be among those exempt, Pasricha Beck said.

Clean-energy companies hailed the move as a major leap forward for the sector.

"With this type of clean energy championship, California continues to establish itself as an environmental and economic leader," said Lynn Jurich, chief executive of San Francisco-based residential solar installer Sunrun Inc. (Reporting by Sebastien Malo in New York City, Nichola Groom in Los Angeles @sebastienmalo, Editing by Claire Cozens Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women's rights, trafficking, property rights, climate change and resilience. Visit