Solar panels should be required in California

May 16, 2017 — by Frederick Kim and Alexandra Li

California, with its solar panel industry rapidly expanding, still has people questioning its worth.

California has the fourth highest solar power potential in the country, behind only Nevada, Arizona, and New Mexico. With an average of around 260 cloudless days a year, the solar industry in California has been rapidly expanding.

In recent years, as prices of solar panel installations have continued to drop, bills have been drafted in hopes of growing the solar industry because the increased usage would lead to endless benefits for the climate. When the small costs are taken into consideration, solar energy seems like the best choice for new buildings.

In the past, the Green Commission, now disbanded, has advocated for solar panels on the Saratoga High campus, particularly in the parking lot.

However, they were met with doubt over the worth of the solar panels by the school administration and whether investing in such a system would be cost effective in the long run.

“The school board was resistant and refused to take any action or look into it,” former head Green commissioner alumna Michelle Shen said. “It was a pretty frustrating process.”

Although the implementation of solar energy has not been successful here, the state has been actively pursuing the subject.

Last year the Board of Supervisors in San Francisco unanimously approved supervisor Scott Wiener’s legislation, which required the installation of solar panels on all new residential and commercial buildings built in the city of San Francisco. As the first major city to require the use of solar energy, San Francisco is a role model for future clean city development.

Last December, Wiener, who is now a California senator, introduced a legislation that would require solar panels on all new buildings across the state. His bill gained initial committee approval by a 8-3 vote and is now working its way through the legislative process.

The main opposition to the bill comes from those who fear the daunting costs of installation for solar panels, which can range from $10,000 to $13,000 across the U.S. But in most states where energy costs are already high, the solar panel buyers manage to save enough money from no longer needing to pay energy bills to account for the price of installation after a few years.

California’s metering system allows a customer's electric meter to keep track of how much electricity is consumed and how much is generated by the solar panels. The excess is sent back into the electric utility grid, and the customer receives credit and is able to use this credit on days where their electric demand is higher. In California, solar panels generally pay for themselves within 10 years. When the benefits of installation for the climate are taken into consideration, the sacrifice seems worth it.

According to The Eco Guide, one household with solar panels would save roughly 16,000 pounds of carbon dioxide annually, which equates to saving 24 trees from having to balance these emissions. If a mere 5 percent of all the households in the U.S. relied on solar panels, it would prevent 90 million pounds of carbon dioxide from being emitted, which roughly estimates around 7 million trees saved from being needed to balance the carbon dioxide emitted from a normal home.

Clearly, even a small percentage of households implementing solar power would have a tremendous impact on the carbon footprint of the United States.  

With the start of the Trump administration putting in power many climate change deniers, the fight for the use of renewable energy is growing in importance. California needs to approve Wiener’s bill and continue to be at the forefront of clean energy.