Saturday, June 6, 2015

As North Texas Grows, Let's Grow it "Solar Ready"

Building a new home, or know someone who is?  Then make sure the builder designs and builds it "Solar Ready"!

North Texas continues to grow.  According to various estimates, the population could double over the next decades and along with that a million new homes could be constructed.  Providing clean energy will be one the key challenges for the region. However, with this new home construction, comes the great opportunity to leverage our local clean energy resource from the sun!

Studies have determined that not all existing homes are good candidates for rooftop solar installations, maybe only 20-33%. Home orientation, roof layout, and roof obstructions can be reasons for some homes not being a good candidate. However, new homes don't have to have these potential blocking issues. New solar ready building codes have been defined and included in the 2015 International Energy Conservation Code (IECC) for residential dwellings. 

Consider the parallel of rooftop solar with residential home air conditioning. Some 50-60 years ago, new homes being built began to widely adopt the new technology of residential central air conditioning.  The designs and building codes were adapted to accommodate the changes necessary to add this new major home appliance technology. It was a wonderful technology greatly increasing the comfort and livability for Texas citizens. So much so, the population of Texas began to grow dramatically.  Also at the same time, undoubtedly the electricity demand began to grow across the state, and in particular the peak demand began to grow with heavy air conditioning use during our long sunny summer afternoons.

Fast forward to today. Peak demand electricity usage has become a challenge for the Texas electricity grid.  And more people are continuing to move to Texas.  And more new homes are being built. Today, 50+ years after the wide spread adoption of residential central air conditioning, there is a new technology beginning to be widely deployed called rooftop solar photovoltaics (PV). Finally, each new home can be built solar ready or include solar panels that generate local electricity to help power central air conditioning and other home comforts. Electricity that is generated where it is consumed, reducing the strain on the statewide electric grid. 

In March of this year, the Dallas Morning News had an article titled "New North Texas communities woo residents with neighborhood farms, open space”.  In the article were statements like - Trails, open space, community gardens are “IN”, golf courses are “OUT”. I took the opportunity to visit a few of the developments mentioned in the article - Light Farms (developer Republic Property Group) and Windsong Ranch (developer Terra Verde Group).  While many of the new homes on display included great energy efficiency features, there was what I considered a glaring problem. There appeared to be no consideration in the design of the roofs of these homes for future solar installations. There were SO MANY roof surfaces, ridges, dormers, and strange roof angles. It would be very unfortunate if the next 50 years of housing stock being erected today was not taking into consideration the great new potential of rooftop solar to provide onsite local clean energy generation.

Solar-ready provisions include relatively simple items such as including a chase that goes to the roof for solar service lines, and a roof design that provides an area of unobstructed south facing roof surface where solar panels could be installed. When included in the original design requirements and done when the home is constructed, these solar-ready provisions should add little or no cost to the overall price of new homes. See ICC Approves Changes to Energy Code for additional information.

Readers are encouraged to promote adoption of solar ready codes where they live as outlined in the Best Management Practices from the North Central Texas Council of Governments Solar Power Initiatives project. See Adopt a Solar Ready Ordinance for additional details.

And MOST importantly, as consumers and customers for new home builders, let's make sure that we are requiring that our next new home purchase be one that is designed and built "solar ready" - or maybe even include a solar PV installation with the new home!

For additional information, go to our Useful Links page and scroll down to the section labeled "Solar-Ready Homes - Net Zero Energy Homes"

Shine On!
Plano Solar Advocates (LH)

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