In 2020, California became the first state to require solar power on all new homes. The mandate is important not just for the Golden State, but because it’s seen as a prototype other states will copy. Now, activists are pursuing mandatory rooftop solar in at least ten more states. So we set off to California to find out how it’s going to so far.
The following is a transcript of a report from "Full Measure with Sharyl Attkisson." Watch the video by clicking the link at the end of the page.
Severin Borenstein: We are now seeing a lot of solar going to new houses, but the majority of solar is still going on existing houses.
Professor Severin Borenstein is from the University of California Berkeley's Haas School of Business, and studies energy policies.
Sharyl: What is your assessment of how that law has worked out so far?
Borenstein: Well, I think that it probably makes more sense to put solar on new houses, but it's still not cost-effective, compared to doing large solar farms and wind farms, where we can produce renewable energy at far lower costs.
Sharyl: As far as you know, have most new houses that have been built complied with this law —
Sharyl: And put in solar?
Borenstein: Almost all houses have. There are a few cases where you can get an exemption, but they are very narrow cases.
We first reported on California’s groundbreaking solar mandate in 2019, where some solar advocates like architect Vitus Matare were skeptical.
Sharyl: What is the problem or the challenge?
Virus Matare: Picking a panel that will have longevity and that is not a particularly wasteful process that's involved in making the panels.
Sharyl: But to be clear, you are a solar power advocate.
Matare: Yes. I just don't like the quality of the panels that we're getting and the fact that no one bothers to differentiate between crummy panels and not quite so crummy panels.
Adding to the waste issue— Matare says many of today’s solar panels don’t last very long. He showed us where he removed solar panels from his own house after less than three years.
Sharyl: You mean this spot?
Matare: This spot right here, yes. And this has happened not just here, but on a few other houses that I designed, and the owners installed panels that did not last.
Today, we get an update on implementation of California’s solar mandate for new houses more than two years in.
Sharyl: Have there been any impacts that you can tell so far?
Borenstein: Well, it does save money for homeowners, but that's because our electric prices are paying for a lot of things other than the electricity. So we have very high electricity prices in California.
Sharyl: Can you explain that? How that trade-off happens?
Borenstein: Well, what we're doing is we're subsidizing those rooftop solar by giving them a lot of credit for the amount of power they put into the grid. Much more credit than that power is actually worth, for instance, the wholesale price of electricity. And, we have to pay for that somehow. And the way we pay for it is by raising prices on all the other customers. And those other customers are the people who aren't putting in solar, who either don't own a home or can't afford to put in solar. And those people are, on average, poorer. So, those people are doing the subsidizing, and the buyers of new houses and some existing houses are getting the subsidy.
Sharyl: What are you thinking about where California is and where they're going?
Borenstein: So, what California should be doing is focusing on how can we help drive down costs, not just for California, not just for the United States, but particularly for the developing world, where most of the greenhouse gas emissions will be coming from over the next 50 years. Rooftop solar is not really a cost-effective way to do that, and it is unlikely to be a cost-effective way to do that in India and Bangladesh and China and other places. So, pursuing rooftop solar as a major part of the strategy is not a good idea. Pursuing large-scale solar — that has gotten incredibly cheap. Part of what we have to do now is figure out how to integrate a lot of that into the grid. California is way ahead of almost any other location on doing that, but there's still some challenges, particularly, at the end of the day, when the sun is setting, particularly in the summer, when there's a lot of air conditioning demand. So suddenly, you lose a lot of solar production, and you got to ramp up something else. Right now, we're doing it mostly by ramping up natural gas generation. We’re increasingly using batteries, and battery technologies have gotten a lot better and are improving every year. But we're going to have to find a combination of battery technology and other storage, trading with other locations, because the sun sets in different parts at different times, and other technologies, in order to smooth those ups and downs of renewables.
Sharyl (on-camera): California has expanded its solar panel mandate. Starting in 2023, the state will require solar panels and battery storage in new commercial buildings.
Watch Solar Mandates here.
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Lisa White says
I live in ILL-inois in Crook County, Chicago, The place were political corruption and gerrymandering was invented, My home is overshadowed by 12 mature oak trees. I see the sky in winter and the days are short and frequently cloudy, Do we all cut down our trees....the oxygen makers for this insane ideological claptrap?
Keep your trees!!
We should ALL keep our trees!
In theory it is a great idea. Here in Arizona with sun shining all the time, solar installation on new homes, old and new commercial and industrial buildings would be great. Problem is it is expensive and like the one gentleman said it’s very wasteful. I don’t believe installing solar and wind farms is the answer. It ends up ruining the landscape and animals disappear. A mix of green and conventional energy is the key. Now it’s just getting to a compromise. Hopefully the greener’s will not want to destroy the landscapes they are trying to save.
I was all for home solar systems and was preparing to have one installed on my own home, when I learned that home solar systems create dangerous electromagnetic fields in your home that are quite likely to be harmful to human health. They may also disrupt the electric wave forms of homes in your neighborhood. Of course, no long term studies on these risks have been done by the solar industry. When I asked my potential solar installer about it, he pretty much shrugged his shoulders and pleaded ignorance. The wave forms of the electricity running through your house are altered by the transducer that converts DC to AC. I don't fully understand the physics, but unless the safety of home solar systems is clarified by quality research, I think people should be wary about installing these systems. Yes, having a solar system may be going green, but if you fry yourself with dangerous EMF you may look more brown (and crisp) than green after a while. The mining of rare earth elements used in solar panels is very carbon intensive, just for those who think they are reducing their carbon footprint. And while reducing carbon dioxide production is a laudable goal, supporting regenerative agriculture and converting to a primarily plant based diet is likely to do much more good than installing a solar system, because there simply aren't enough rare earth elements to make a sufficient number of solar panels to reduce the globe's carbon production significantly, On the other hand, reforestation, conversion of animal feed producing arable lands to human food production, restoration of wetlands and ending deforestation are likely to have a bigger impact.
Bill Andrews says
Speaking of odd Radiation ? I been logging odd Radiation from out there in Interstellar space and the energy jibberish mathematics does not jive with the constant rotation .Then it occurred to me what is going on ? And High Interstellar Radiaction is effecting environmental communications this could be the reason Voyager 1 launched 45 years ago in 1977 is having trouble ? The wave of communications is being effected by greater waves of radiation waves resulting in a energy much greater in a projected space to energy ! So much for trying to communicate with other Interstellar Worlds or other Worlds in other Galaxies from planet Earth = lost in transition "Huston we got a problem ? If Washington D.C. wants to talk to other Interstellar Worlds and Galaxies we need a bunch of interstellar relay satellites across space to keep communications signals strait foreward and not relaying false interrupted other waves much greater disrupting those signals.? I'd be afraid of letting anybody know where planet earth is you see how bad that Vladimir Putin is and he's from this planet ? The last thing this Planet needs is more crazit's arriving here ?