SF Commercial Clean Energy Requirement Is a Boon for Solar

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San Francisco—the first major city in the nation to require solar panels on the roofs of new buildings—now is requiring large commercial building owners to source 100 percent of their electricity from renewable energy by 2030.

That’s expected to be good news for solar contractors because it will expand the use of solar in the city and possibly nationally.

The San Francisco plan will be implemented in phases, requiring owners of the biggest buildings—500,000 square feet or larger—to take action first, by 2022. Buildings between 250,000 and 499,000 square feet must switch by 2024, and structures 50,000 square feet to 250,000 must source 100 percent renewable energy by 2030.

Other Cities Expected to Follow, Increasing Solar Demand Nationally

The solar industry nationwide is sure to get a boost from the initiative, said Tony Clifford, chief development officer, Standard Solar, and a member of the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA)’s executive board.

“Such mandates are becoming ever-more common across the country, and we believe San Francisco will set the standard for commercial solar expansion that other cities will soon follow,” he said.

Sean White, a certified solar PV master trainer and the author of several books about solar, said that in San Francisco, there isn’t enough roof space on most commercial buildings to offset 100 percent of their usage.

“They will need to purchase clean electricity through their Community Choice Aggregation (CCA) program or utility for a good part of their energy,” he said.

This will create opportunities for solar contractors to help meet the growing demand for solar in San Francisco, however. Much of the demand will be met with utility-scale projects, said White.

Expect an uptick in projects from Pacific Gas and Electric Co.’s (PG&E) Solar Choice options, which are available to the large building owners.

Under the program, part of a statewide initiative, investor-owned utilities must procure their renewable energy following guidelines from the California Public Utilities Commission. PG&E provides details on its website about how it sources renewable energy for the program.

The city of San Francisco also gives businesses and residents the option of buying “SuperGreen” power.

San Francisco Aims to be Carbon Neutral

The initiative for large buildings is part of the city’s effort to use only renewable electricity by 2030 across the city and to become carbon neutral by 2050.

About 44 percent of San Francisco’s greenhouse gas emissions are released by buildings, and about 50 percent come from commercial structures. While the transportation sector produces higher amounts of greenhouse gases, it’s expected that it will be easier to focus first on buildings, because owners can switch to their utility’s green power options.

As Clifford says, with such efforts to reduce cities’ carbon footprints becoming more commonplace across the country, the solar industry is sure to benefit.

“The opportunity for the solar community – from contractors to financiers – is immense and it is up to them to meet this challenge head-on to build and fund these new projects,” he said.