construction and solar technology

What’s New in Solar?

Drive-thru:

  • California has recently taken a big step in embracing solar power, by requiring all new home construction to include solar.
  • As interest and investment in solar power grows, several states have enacted laws and set up initiatives to encourage the adoption of solar.
  • Solar technology is evolving and advancing, creating new opportunities for construction companies.

The use of solar power in home building has been steadily growing over the past few years. In fact, the state of California has recently made a move to ensure that the trend continues: It passed a law requiring all new home construction to include solar power.

The rule, which takes effect in 2020, makes California the first state to step forward so boldly toward advancing energy efficiency. Some have complained the requirement will increase the cost of homebuilding, although advocates say the costs will be offset over time by lower energy bills.

Other states push solar forward

Several other states have launched initiatives aimed at encouraging homeowners to embrace solar power:

  • Colorado has a new law that protects people’s rights to install, interconnect, and operate energy storage systems without unnecessary red tape; it also made energy storage a protected right for residents.
  • Florida has recently declared that solar power leases are legal in the state. Previously, the leases were considered third-party electricity sales.
  • Hawaii has recently changed its revenue model for investor-owned electric utilities to encourage more residents to install solar.
  • New Jersey passed a law that requires 50 percent of the state’s power to come from renewable sources by 2030.
  • Utah is extending the $1,600 credit for residential solar customers until 2021. Solar companies in the state are also required to provide consumers with a disclosure statement to make sure they understand their contracts’ terms.

Nationwide, 10.6 gigawatts of solar photovoltaics (PV) capacity were installed in 2017, making total capacity 53.3 gigawatts. That’s enough to power 10.1 million homes in the U.S., according to the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA). The rate of PV capacity is expected to double by 2023, with more than 15 gigawatts installed each year.

Does solar really save?

The cost of solar installations has been halved over the past five years, but the price decline slowed in 2017, according to SEIA. Over the past 12 months, the price of solar increased 1.6 percent in residential while dropping 2 percent for non-residential.

The exact cost of solar installation varies depending on location. Nevertheless, it can be expensive, ranging from around $15,000 to $25,000 for an average five-kilowatt system, according to the Center for Sustainable Energy. A 30 percent federal tax credit is available for solar systems put in place before December 31, 2019, and then declines after that. Depending on your location, however, state and local incentives may also be available for solar installations.

Six to nine years is the average payback period for residential solar systems, depending on how much the system costs as well as on utility bill savings. If you are a new homeowner, that’s a relatively short time. Exactly how much solar saves on energy bills depends on location, usage, and other factors.

Solar and the construction industry

Energy-related projects, like solar installations, created more than 2 million construction jobs in 2016, representing 31 percent of the total U.S. construction workforce, the U.S. Energy and Employment report reveals.

As more home and business owners embrace solar, there will be more construction opportunities in the industry.

Technology is also improving, making solar installation more efficient. Solar arrays—a pre-designed, factory-made solar product—are becoming increasingly popular. They are easier to install than traditional solar panels and can be used either permanently or temporarily.

Modular construction, where parts of buildings or entire structures are built off-site, is becoming more popular in the industry and is opening more doors for solar panels that are embedded at the building stage.

Solar panels are also becoming smaller, and builders aren’t limited to installing them on roofs anymore. For example, newer capabilities like virtual net metering allow solar panels to be installed off-site, while homeowners can use the energy source.

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