Residential solar is the best deal in town

Creative Commons. Edmund Tse

If I advertised an investment that was guaranteed to double your money in one month, you’d be skeptical and I’d soon be in jail. But what if the government backed my get-rich-quick scheme and assured you it was real?

When the California Energy Commission (CEC) passed its 2019 Building Energy Efficiency Standards this month, which require that new homes built in the state include solar energy generation, it essentially did just that. The average new home will have solar panels and energy efficiency technology that will add about $40/month to a typical mortgage payment, but will save $80/month on electric bills. That’s doubling your monthly investment while cleaning up the air and reducing greenhouse gas pollution.

And while the solar mandate got most of the headlines, the long tradition of the CEC, of pushing technology providers to help consumers save money by getting more from every kilowatt used in a home, continued with these new standards. Beyond solar, these new rules cover efficiency improvements to the insulation, ventilation, and lighting of new buildings. The ventilation measures will make heating and cooling systems more efficient and will also improve indoor air quality. Under the new standards, buildings will use about 30% less energy, saving consumers still more money.

Indeed, these measures save significant money and will reduce meaningful amounts of air pollution and greenhouse gases from energy production, but they also create local jobs. It’s hard to outsource the task of installing or maintaining solar panels to anyone but a local worker. In 2010, 93,000 workers were employed in the solar industry in communities all around the US. By 2017, that number skyrocketed to over 250,000 jobs. By comparison, coal mining in the US employs about 80,000 workers, not surprisingly the majority of which are concentrated in four states.

But if you’re not living in California or buying a new home in the near future, you can still enjoy the benefits of solar. Thanks to incentives and mandates like those of the CEC, the cost of adding solar to your home or business has dropped more than two-thirds nationwide since 1985 and more roofers, electricians, solar specialists and finance companies are competing for your business. You can even get solar on your roof today for no upfront cost, either with conventional financing or by agreeing to simply buy the energy produced, often at a lower cost that you pay today for grid power.

My parents used to warn me to beware of anything that’s too good to be true, but they also said, “don’t look a gift horse in the mouth.” Thanks to the CEC and many solar providers today, renewable energy on your building (and efficient use of that power) can be a money-maker that is a gift to your wallet and the planet.

Last updated May 15, 2018

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