If you’re a builder or electrician living in California, you’re probably already thinking about how to make the state’s latest leap toward net-zero emissions: mandating solar and storage in every new home.
As part of the 2022 Energy Act, California enacted a solar+storage readiness mandate. Why? The answer is many. The state is on the front lines of climate change, with wildfires, droughts, power outages and rising energy demands.
California has had a solar PV mandate since 2019 and just passed another mandate to phase out gasoline-powered vehicles by 2035. They are on the fast track to phasing out CO2 emissions more than most states.
Storage decisions have their drawbacks. Battery systems are costly, lithium supplies are erratic, battery disposal and reuse strategies are not always robust, and not everyone wants or needs solar cells in their garage. Or do they?
Schneider Electric’s Square D Energy Center Smart Panel does much more than keep circuits safe. It provides flexible control over solar arrays and battery storage, helping contractors meet new Title 24 requirements in 2023.
Due at least in part to the extreme climate, California is feeling a huge energy crunch. The state narrowly avoided having to trigger rolling blackouts this fall and warned residents that the next heat wave could be unmanageable.
At the heart of California policy is spreading the burden of climate change on the private sector because institutional grids and entities simply cannot keep up. Given this reality, the best policy for builders and developers may be to simplify change rather than resist it.
One way is with smarter home technology. What I mean by that is that homes operate more like complex commercial properties, prioritizing systems and appliances and closing items that don’t have the same criticality to life safety or communications.
Right-Sizing PV and Storage Systems
Adding battery energy storage to a new home introduces many new complexities in the home’s electrical infrastructure. First, the PV array and storage must be sized correctly. At the risk of oversimplifying, the required PV output must total at least 14 watts per square foot for all available solar access rooftop areas (SARA). These roof areas include any roof over the carport and outbuildings capable of supporting solar panels.
Batteries, on the other hand, must fit a capacity formula based on array size and other factors. You can access the formula in this detailed article.
Of course, batteries are costly and can double the cost of just panel mounting. EnergySage pegs the average storage cost through October 2022 at $1,322 kWh.
But California has some solid incentive programs. For example, the Self-Generation Incentive Program (SGIP) offers rebates for battery storage based on system capacity. This is a tiered rate based on first-come, first-served applicants, but 10 kWh installations are eligible for incentives of $1,500 to $2,000.
Batteries, like solar panels, qualify for a 30% federal tax credit. So, for example, if a homeowner spends $10,000 on batteries, they should get a tax credit of $3,000 in the year of purchase. Batteries must be 100% charged by solar energy by 2023; however, stand-alone battery storage systems are also approved by 2023. This change incentivizes existing building owners (with or without solar panels) to add battery storage.
Keep in mind the end goal here. California utilities are looking for the most affordable way to add more storage capacity across the grid. They see the all-electric movement gaining momentum and try to avoid taking on all new products.
Unlike traditional switchboards, Energy Centers are linked to an app that provides greater transparency for homeowners looking to manage their energy usage, making it a powerful tool for managing on-site energy production and more.
How does an electrical service panel enter the equation?
The addition of storage mandates to California’s energy code is driving installers to look for time-saving methods and assistive technology, said Kevin Prill, president of Asgard Energy in Oceanside, Calif.
Coincidentally, Schneider Electric recently released its latest smart switchboard, The Square D Energy Center. Originally developed for commercial buildings, it replaces traditional switchboards, providing sophisticated, granular control over individual circuits.
“Schneider Electric’s Square D panels are solving a problem the industry is having with storage and solar,” Prior said. “Energy Center saves us time and allows us to easily commit and control the flow of electricity. When we are able to pass on the savings, it just impacts the bottom line.”
The Energy Center offers smartphone control of smart electrical panels. Homeowners can use it to measure and control electricity usage in their homes. Contractors can hand it over to clients with virtually unlimited customization. Energy Center electrical panels eliminate the need for secondary load panels and allow wiring for whole home and partial home backup.
Important to Title 24 solar + storage compliance is the ability of the switchboard to manage daily power usage and emergency situations.
For example, some versions of Energy Center have a built-in transfer function that automatically isolates the panel from the grid during a power outage and then restores grid input when power is restored (common models do not have this feature). Of course, some hybrid inverters used with solar arrays can do this, but they do little else.
The Energy Center has many other functions, including controlling and monitoring the power usage of individual circuits.
Essentially, smart panels are like a sort of user-friendly Swiss army knife for homeowners. Not only does it provide the surge protection and wiring failsafe the code requires, but it also adds a sophisticated command and control overlay.
Because it works with a smartphone app interface, Schneider’s smart panel provides a great narrative for upselling homeowners. For example, homeowner Jorge Lopez in Costa Mesa, California, upgraded to smart panels and used real-time energy information to reduce energy costs.
“I was able to change the time I had for my pool, my air conditioning unit, and the way I used my washer, dryer and other appliances,” he said. Also, I’ve gotten lots of compliments on the look of the panels from friends and electrical contractors. “
Article provided by Green Builder
by Matt Bauer, Veteran journalist Matt Power has been covering innovation and sustainability in housing for nearly three decades. An award-winning writer, editor, and filmmaker, he has long asked tough questions and added depth and context to revealing complex issues.
5 facts about energy storage every Californian should know
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