How Far Away is the Standard Solar Roof

by Anna Gretz
April 24, 2017
Energy

When Elon Musk revealed Tesla’s new Solar Rooftop, people started to wonder… how long will it be until every house has one of these? With a natural, sleek look and a surprisingly low price point, it seems like solar shingles should be the new shingles, right? If you think so, you’re not alone. There are many reasons why rooftop solar has completely taken off, and reason to think that it may standard on new builds in the future.

One look at Google’s Project Sunroof maps, and we can see how much sunlight we’re failing to capture. (If you haven’t checked out Project Sunroof yet, get on it. It puts our whole solar situation in great perspective.) The sun dishes out tons of free energy every day, and since many residential rooftops stare into the sun all day, they are a perfect surface for photovoltaics. Right now, if homeowners are down with the idea of rooftop solar, it’s up to them to coordinate financing and installation. Someday (hopefully soon), it may no longer be this way.

It’s hard to argue with the fact that having solar panels on residential rooftops is just a straight-up good idea. So how far away are we from solar rooftops becoming standard, maybe even mandatory for builders?

Back in January of 2013, Bloomberg published an article asking this same question. Even five years ago, solar companies could see the potential, maybe even the obligation, to put household rooftops to work. In response to Bloomberg posing the question, SunPower Corp, then the second-largest U.S. solar manufacturer, expected that solar panels would become a standard feature in new home construction in the U.S. before long. That was almost five years ago, and we’re still waiting. But our wait may be over sooner than you think, especially in the state of California.

San Francisco has revealed recently that California is headed in the right direction. As of last January, the city announced that all new buildings 10 stories or fewer in San Francisco must be built with solar panels included. The author and enthusiast behind the measure, Scott Wiener, plans to bring the concept to other cities in California as well. Though this only applies to new construction and unfortunately won’t require existing buildings to ante up, it will make a big difference, especially as time goes on. It also simply hasn’t been done before--we are entering into a new era of mainstream solar.

Mandatory rooftop solar legislation is no small deal. With new laws like the one in San Francisco, we see an example of how a legislature can drive solar expansion not only through tax credits, but through actual mandates. Passing legislation like this isn’t easy, however, and we can’t expect a total domino effect throughout California and beyond. Even so, it’s not surprising that California is leading the charge because of the impressive solar penetration the state has seen so far.

California has seen huge solar growth on residential rooftops, particularly in the past few years. We can chalk this up to the state’s impressive renewable energy goals, tax credits, and net-metering laws. But not everyone has the cash needed to make an investment in residential rooftop solar. This is why installing solar during construction makes sense. The construction period is when solar is at its easiest and cheapest, saving the future homeowner the hassle of financing, designing, and overseeing the solar installation. Bundling the solar panels within the overall purchase of the house give the owner the ability to pay it off over time instead of footing a high upfront cost (although there are other options for this as well.)

But talk about mandatory solar begs yet another question: What if we added standard battery storage as well? Solar panels are a great choice for many households, but without a way to store all of the excess energy many solar photovoltaics generate during the day when no one is home to use it up… that’s a lot of energy you’re missing out on. With energy storage in the form of a home battery, you get to keep that hard-earned solar energy stored up until you are ready to use it. Solar panels are better when they’re paired with home batteries--they bring out the best in each other.

One of Australia’s major housing developers, Metricon, is thinking the same thing. They’re starting to offer not only solar as an option for new buyers… but solar + storage. Newly built homes in Queensland will be partnered with a local solar and storage installer to offer solar and Tesla Powerwall home batteries for homeowners. This is part of a vision to make solar and battery storage a standard feature in all new builds in Australia, something that is predicted to actually happen… and actually happen soon. For Australians, this means choosing a “Luxury Living” upgrade to their home build at a cost of $1,999… an upgrade that will likely save them $2,100 a year on energy storage. Seem like a no-brainer? That’s why the new idea is expected to gain a ton of momentum in Australia, with other countries to follow.

The Metricon example makes it clear that standard solar + storage isn’t a new or original idea. It’s just a great idea. Case in point: “solar + storage” is a term used both inside and outside the energy industry. The Motley Fool published an article at the end of last year predicting that the solar + storage market is about to reach a whole new level, with batteries being automatically included in solar system installation. The article called energy storage the “third main component” of any solar panel system, and predicted that it will cause an upset (in a good way…) within the industry.

Some argue that the industry has already been disrupted, and continues to change rapidly to acommodate the quick growth of energy storage like home batteries. Residential energy storage got off to a slower start because of the expense of the technology, and many homeowners felt that they couldn’t justify paying for a home battery without a clear and quick payoff period. But the cost challenge has already started to dissipate, especially with incentive programs like California’s SGIP, and many customers taking advantage of time-of-use shifting, buying their electricity at extremely low rates, storing it, and using it whenever they need it. The cost of solar and battery materials is also falling as demand for the new technology rises, and companies like Swell Energy are making financing even easier by offering ways to pay for energy storage monthly, instead of making it an up-front investment.

The value of home batteries is also on the rise, as our power grid continues to break down, causing more and more power outages every year. Homeowners are looking for energy freedom and security, and they’re finding it in home batteries. The current market for solar + storage is great, but the future looks even brighter.

How far are we from a solar roof standard? We’re getting closer all the time. States like California have shown that they’re ready for a new way to build houses, and take advantage of the energy our rooftops can provide. We’re also ready for an energy storage revolution. It won’t be long until “solar + storage” becomes the new normal.