In the near future, solar panels may join the likes of the kitchen stove and washing machine by achieving a spot in the coveted category of "standard home appliance." On New Year’s Day, every newly-built California home must be equipped with solar power, either from solar panels or a solar farm. Experts say that the changes in California’s codes could spark a revolution to normalize solar panels. The solar trend would not just be the latest fad, but also a move that benefits consumers: The California Energy Department estimates that the average solar home will save $80 on utilities, more than offsetting the cost of the solar units and their installation.
On the stroke of midnight this New Year’s Eve, the American dream will get a makeover. In California, the nation’s most populous state, every newly-built home must now come with enough solar panels to satisfy its electricity needs.
It’s a quiet revolution tucked into the building codes approved unanimously by the California Energy Commission (CEC) in 2018. Solar panels are installed on just 20% of new homes in the state. That figure will rise to 100% for every home under four stories tall (with a few exceptions; pdf). The CEC expects this to add 74,000 new solar installations in 2020. By comparison, there were 127,000 residential photovoltaic systems installed in 2017, many on existing homes. Community solar programs approved under the new mandate will add even more.
Generating your own electricity is still a luxury for most homeowners, despite residential solar costs falling 23% over the last five years. Overnight, though, California’s new building codes have turned them into a fixture as standard as a front door. “There are 100,000 customers annually that will see the acquisition of solar as a normal part of their home transaction,” said Abigail Ross Hopper, head of the Solar Energy Industries Association, to Greentech Media. “I can’t overstate how strongly I feel about normalizing the solar experience so it feels less risky to the consumer.”