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New building rules in California – looking for more energy efficiency


In the last few days, news spread around the world about California becoming the first U.S. state to require the installation of solar panels in most new homes, starting January 1, 2020. You can read some news reports here. However, the decision approved by the California Energy Commission is far more comprehensive than that. Actually, the rules involve a revision of the Building Energy Efficiency Standards, process that is undertaken routinely every few years. (You can see the rulemaking process and the press release) These new standard, which still needs the approval of the California Building Standards Commission (it is very likely to get it) had the blessing of representatives of builders, utilities and solar manufacturers, according to press reports.

Let’s see what the residential standard includes, principally:

  • Mandatory installation of smart-system solar panels at homes, unless it is evident the panels are not going to generate energy (because of shade, for example). The panels will provide energy for the house, and in absence of that source, the grid will provide electricity as usual.

  • Strengthening insulation in attics, walls and windows, to avoid energy losses.

  • Use of high efficiency filters to trap hazardous particles, and (I assume) avoid energy losses as well.

  • Encourage the use of batteries and smart appliances, in order to have them working in off-peak periods. This would be coupled with time-of-use electricity price, so there is also an economic punishment for demanding the network for non-necessary tasks at peak periods.

(California Energy Commission)

A few comments about this regulation and its impacts:

  • Evidently, costs of construction are going to increase. The Energy Commission states that increase in investment if offset by savings in monthly energy bills. That is to be seen. Let’s not forget that the Federal Government applied additional tariffs to some Chinese products, among others, solar panels, which is not the best way to promote competition and savings for costumers. Also, the mandatory increase in demands might lead to, at least temporarily, higher prices.