How Long Before Solar Roofs Become Standard?

on December 09, 2013 at 12:00 PM

Construction Of New Homes Rises More Than Economists Predicted For March

In sunny, high retail cost states, it appears imminent

Adding solar panels to a roof is at least 20% cheaper when the roof is being built than adding it later. Why not include solar panels as a standard feature in new homes, just as smoke detectors or kitchen granite countertops are? That seems to be the trend, at least for upscale homes in sunny parts of the US with high retail tariffs. It makes good economic sense and may even differentiate the solar home from the run-of-the-mill variety.

According to SunPower Corp. a supplier of PV panels, at least 6 of the 10 largest US homebuilders are already including PV panels on new single family homes they build. That may explain part of the reason for a projected 56% increase in residential solar PV systems in the US for 2013, according to the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA) latest projections.

Screen shot 2013-11-26 at 1.18.08 PM

Source: John Farrell, Renewable Energy, 9 July 2013

“In the next 6 months, homebuilders in California and the expensive-energy states will be going solar as a standard, and just incorporating it into the cost of the house like any other feature,” Jim Petersen, CEO of PetersenDean Inc., a roofing and solar contractor, told Bloomberg in an interview in Sept 2013.

The extra costs, typically in the $10-20,000 range for an average new home, represents a miniscule addition to the cost of a typical new home in an expensive state, such as California. Mr. Petersen said his company installed PV systems on about 7.5% of the 100,000 roofs it built in 2012, expecting the figure to double in 2013.

Tom Werner, CEO of SunPower notes that a 3-kilowatt system, enough to power a typical mid-size home, costs less than $15,000 and can be rolled into a mortgage.  “You embed it into your home mortgage, you’re cash flow positive (from) month one,” he said.

Already 2 communities in California, Lancaster and Sebastopol, mandate solar systems as a condition for granting a new residential building permit. Both cities expect to become zero net energy (ZNE) over time. The latter’s ordinance, which also applies to commercial buildings, is expected to make the entire community ZNE within 3 years. City of Palo Alto does not currently have a solar ordinance but gets virtually all its electricity from renewable sources.

As time goes on and new technologies emerge, many envision solar embedded tiles will become commonplace as roofing material. Anyone with a new roof will be able to generate power whenever the sun is shining.  Wouldn’t that be nice?

Perry Sioshansi is the President of Menlo Energy Economics and Editor & Publisher of EEnergy Informer. He can be reached at [email protected].
His latest two books are Energy Efficiency: Towards the End of Demand Growth and Evolution of Global Electricity Markets, both published in 2013 by Elsevier. Further details & 30% discount available here