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Solar panels play a vital role in net-zero energy homes

Francisco CastroApril 4, 20193360

Cambridge, Massachusetts; Georgetown, Texas and Lancaster, California may not seem to have many things in common, except for one: a desire to counteract the greenhouse gas effect and their push for sources of renewable energy.

They, and a number of other cities across the U.S., have embarked on a path to transform their communities into net-zero energy ones.

What are net-zero energy homes?

In 2017, the U.S. Department of Energy estimated about 39 percent of the total energy consumed in the country was in the residential and commercial sectors. A majority of the energy was produced by fossil fuels like coal, petroleum and natural gas.

The nonprofit Net Zero Energy Coalition

 defines net-zero energy homes as dwellings not reliant on these fossil fuels. Houses where solar panels are installed or their capacities are increased, where owners add extra insulation and high-quality windows. 

Photovolaic solar panels (PV) play a vital role in this endeavor. They are the most cost-effective renewable energy source for most zero-energy homes. A reputable solar panel installer and design company can help you determine the amount of PV panels required to reach maximum energy output in your house.

To maximize solar energy production with your PV, experts recommend that your zero energy home should have unobstructed sunlight between the hours of 9 a.m. and 4 p.m. The south or west roof should have enough square footage to hold the number of solar panels needed. Eliminate any building elements from the design that will cast a shadow on the panels or interfere with their placement. Roof installations such as dormers, chimneys, plumbing vents, and utility masts should be located so they do not interfere with panel placement or impair solar access to the panels.

Other improvements to make your property a zero-energy home include LED lighting, low-flow water fixtures, heat-reflecting roof tiles and energy-efficient appliances. All of this with the purpose of allowing for better temperature regulation, low-humidity, less noise and minimum exposure to dangerous pollutants, as well as reducing as much as possible the amount of energy the home consumes.

And there’s a big push for them currently.

For instance, Lancaster, California is pushing to become a net-zero energy, carbon neutral community. 

In the past 5 years, Lancaster launched a public-private partnership that enables residents and businesses to install solar energy systems at lower cost. 

The city also changed its solar permitting approval process by allowing customers to obtain those permits over the counter, eliminating long waiting periods. 

And new single-family homes built in Lancaster after January 2014 are now required to have a minimum of 1 kWh of solar PV collectors.1,

The City also installed solar energy systems on six municipal facilities that generate over 1.5 MW of renewable energy and 25 elementary schools.

The goal

The purpose of net-zero energy homes is that they are able to produce as much energy as they consume.

According to CNBC, the U.S. has an estimated 5,000 net-zero energy single-family homes today; California - at the leading edge of the net-zero energy home revolution - could add 100,000 a year.

In December, California instituted a new requirement that calls for most new homes and multi-family residential buildings up to three stories high to include solar panels on their roof beginning in 2020. Depending on the specifics of the design and the residence's energy consumption pattern, solar panels could produce all the electricity needed for the home. The state's ultimate goal is to produce net-zero energy homes that reduce the state's carbon footprint and make buildings energy self-sufficient.

The California Energy Commission estimates this new mandate will mean approximately $9,500 additionally to the upfront cost of a single-family house, with savings of $19,000 over 30 years.

“This is an undeniably historic decision for the state and the U.S. California has long been our nation’s biggest solar champion, and its mass adoption of solar has generated huge economic and environmental benefits, including bringing tens of billions of dollars of investment into the state,” said in a press release Abigail Ross Hopper, President and CEO of the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA), after California made this decision. "Now, California is taking bold leadership again, recognizing that solar should be as commonplace as the front door that welcomes you home.

Sacramento leads the charge in cities with the most zero-energy buildings. Other municipalities include Davis, California; Portland, Oregon; New York, Austin, Texas, Honolulu, Hawaii, Clarkdale, Arizona, Washington D.C. and National City, California.

But even the Midwest and other parts of the U.S. - far away from sunny California - taking notice. A report by the Rocky Mountain Institute titled “The Economics of zero-energy homes” found that the initial extra costs of making a new house a net-zero energy home pay for themselves through energy savings in less than a decade in both Detroit and Columbus, Ohio, and in less than 14 years in most of the 50 largest U.S. cities.

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