California Now Requires Solar Homes—Here's How It Could Work in Texas

Man Measuring Building Solar Array

Solar capacity in California already dwarfs Texas but is growing quickly in both states. In fact, they represent the number-one and number-two states, respectively, for solar growth. Recent policy changes in California will lead to a continuation of those trends.

In May 2018, the California Energy Commission unanimously approved a new measure that would require solar installations in all new homes. The move is part of the state’s commitment to build a 100 percent fossil-fuel-free electrical grid by 2045. The new changes to the building code, which go into effect in 2020, dictate that builders either add individual panel systems to each new home individually or build and connect the home to a community solar installation shared by several houses.

While these requirements may raise the average market value of a new home in California, experts say that the energy savings will more than make up for that higher price. For instance, the required residential solar panel installations are expected to add an average $40 to monthly mortgage payments, but they should save the average homeowner around $80 a month on their electricity bill.

California’s new regulations mark a watershed moment for solar: if the new building code is successful, it will likely be adopted by other pro-solar states. That’s prompting many state officials to consider how a similar adjustment to their building codes would affect housing prices — and solar capacity. Here at Freedom Solar, we were curious just how a measure like this would work in the great state of Texas, so we decided to investigate. Here’s what we found.

New Construction in Texas Could Vastly Impact Our Energy Makeup

The Texas solar industry - not to mention the environment - would stand to benefit the most of any state in the country from a similar building requirement. According to a report compiled by Environment Texas Research & Policy Center, if Texas required solar panels on all new homes, our state would add 24 gigawatts of solar capacity to electrical grids — while greatly reducing carbon emissions.

The Lone Star State builds the most new homes of any state in the nation; in 2017, there were around 130,000 new home construction permits placed in Dallas, Houston, and Austin alone. It’s expected that our state will add 3.2 million new homes by 2045, so needless to say, adding solar to all of those homes would have a huge impact on our fossil fuel consumption.

Some Texas Cities Already Have Solar Building Requirements

If such a measure was approved in Texas, it wouldn’t come out of the blue. There is already a precedent for solar-related building requirements our state. Major metropolitan areas in Texas have already revised building codes to encourage solar installations on newly constructed homes.

Austin, Houston, and Lewisville — a Dallas suburb — all approved solar-related requirements for new residences. In Austin, building codes dictate that all new buildings be “solar-ready,” meaning their roofs must be designed with enough surface space to house solar panels. That requirement extends to multifamily units and commercial spaces, making it the most expansive solar-related building requirement in Texas.

Houston was the first city in Texas to adopt a solar-ready mandate; those provisions require new home builders to construct roof surfaces that accomodate panels, as well as reserving electrical service space for solar installations. Builders must also submit a sample site plan for the Solar Ready Zone when applying for building permits.

Solar Requirements: The Big Implications

When one area elects to adopt more progressive solar policies, often it spurs other regions into action. Texas’s solar-ready cities are a perfect example of this; in a presentation to the Austin Electric Utility Commission and Resource Management Commission (RMC), the RMC vice chair argued that Houston’s solar-ready requirements effectively set the precedent for similar building code policies in Austin.

Many opponents of these new measures argue that requiring solar panels or solar-ready homes will drive up the cost of new homes. However, environmental experts argue that solar regulations like these would actually lower the cost of solar systems by as much as 59 percent, according to one study. So while new home costs might rise immediately following the implementation of such requirements, there would eventually come a tipping point where solar became more affordable for everyone. And of course, that’s not counting how individual energy savings and increased home resale value might offset the additional housing costs.

While it’s unclear now whether such a revision to the statewide building code would ever be approved here in the Lone Star State, the eyes of utility commissioners, solar panel installers, and others in the energy industry are all on California now, waiting to see how the new regulations will shake out.

You don’t have to wait for Texas to approve new solar measures to start saving on your electricity bills, though. You can install solar panels on your own home today. Contact us today to speak to a solar energy expert — and experience the freedom that comes with your own solar installation.