California home solar mandate tightened, community solar definition needed


It was the shot heard around the industry when California mandated solar power on every new home as part of the broad 2019 Building Energy Code upgrade. The code aimed to do more than simply increase residential efficiency, and when looking into the energy storage portion of the regulation you see that designers sought to make each residential unit an intelligent part of the power grid. pv magazine USA speculated that it would lead toward a massive decrease in system costs with integration at time of design.

Yesterday, the California Energy Commission (CEC) postponed a decision on a proposal by the Sacramento Municipal Utility District (SMUD) to use off-site, and already built, solar power plants to meet the solar mandate requirement via the community solar option. Commissioner comments seemed to support the community solar option, but expressed that SMUD’s use of the technique would both take away from the spirit of the mandate, and limit consumer benefit.

Public comments can be found on CEC’s website here.

The California Solar + Storage Association (CalSSA) presented to the CEC, in the above tweet, noting the difference of annual benefit to a home from onsite solar versus the SMUD program. SMUD’s program would benefit customers approximately $20/year, whereas a rooftop system on the home would generate approximately $300/year.

SMUD’s technique of meeting the requirement was partially met by using already built or very far away solar power plants, with one particular facility as far as 150 miles away from SMUD’s service area.

Commissioners suggested that the definition of community solar was too broad, and needed be tightened – but that the community solar aspect of the mandate was there due to apartment buildings having limited viability for the space hungry technology.

Maybe the commissioners ought take a drive to Utah?

Commissioner Janea Scott said the SMUD proposal didn’t fit with the mandate’s desire of on-site solar or storage. Commissioner Andrew McAllister said the mandate’s goal is decarbonization – not supporting the residential solar market. However he followed that by saying this proposal didn’t seem to save enough money for homeowners and would limit home battery installation, which would offer backup power when utilities shut the power off.

These comment are especially salient in light of the ongoing Public Safety Power Shutoffs by utility Pacific Gas and Electric Company to prevent their power lines from causing fires, and the very strong solar+storage demand these events are driving. SMUD’s proposal would mean that the far remote solar power plants, like all other large centralized generation, could lose the ability to transport their electricity to homeowners during the grid shutdown periods.

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