Due to the coronavirus pandemic, the state is now seeing a slowdown in construction projects and permits for new housing, thus state-wide projected solar photovoltaic generation has been slowed.

Prior to recent lockdowns, an analysis conducted at Wood Mackenzie, a research and consultancy group, predicted that the 2020 solar mandate, which applies exclusively to new single family and multifamily projects up to three stories, would add anywhere from 123 to 334 megawatts of PV to California’s market each year through 2024. If current construction trends continue, these values may not be recognized until 2021.

COVID-19 is adding to existing adversity in the housing market such as affordability and land availability. With fewer new homes being built, the solar mandate is not having as large of an impact as hoped in certain cities. The building division in the northern California City of Fairfield received only 51 permit applications from January to June this year, down from 213 in the same time frame from 2019.

Conversely, permit applications rose from 2018 to 2020 in the neighboring City of Vacaville. Chief Building Official Jay Salazaar accredits this rise to increasingly active subdivision developments throughout the city. SunPower, a California-based residential solar and storage company, reported that their solar installation and sales dwindled because of coronavirus, but assured that the mandate is still in full effect and that the transition to widespread rooftop solar is taking place.

Even before the outbreak, California experienced difficulty implementing the solar mandate. Housing in densely populated cities such as Los Angeles and San Francisco may lack adequate roof area to accommodate and take advantage of PV installation. In the instance that a rooftop solar power system is infeasible due to excessive shading or other factors, the project may be exempt from the requirements of the mandate. The California Energy Commission (CEC) stresses that the PV requirement is flexible and offers exemptions to meeting California Energy Code compliance.

One such exemption is omitting common areas in multifamily projects from meeting energy regulations, reducing the size of systems needed. Additionally, when pursuing the performance method and creating an energy model for compliance, credits are available for adding PV battery storage to a project’s system, which can entice homeowner’s and developers into utilizing battery storage.

Community solar has been proposed to alleviate some of the potential financial burden associated with the mandate. Only one program in the entire state has been approved to be an alternative method of complying with the energy code. The Sacramento Municipal Utility District (SMUD) currently offers the option to allow homeowners and developers to use community solar instead of installing solar panels on each new roof. However, the program has been met with controversy and there is uncertainty if similar programs will be implemented throughout the rest of the state. What is certain, though, is that the coronavirus is still impacting daily life and the economy, so the full benefits of the solar mandate may not be seen for a long while.

For more information on the California solar mandate and overall PV system planning, contact Moe Fakih below.

Contributing Writer: Anthony Moreno | Project Administrator

Moe Fakih, Principal
714-363-4700 x 501