Santa Monica mandates solar PV on new buildings

On April 27, the city council of Santa Monica, California voted to require rooftop solar PV systems on all new construction in the city, both residential and commercial. The ordinance will go into effect at the end of May.

The beachfront city of 90,000 residents in Los Angeles County is the fifth in the state of California to include this mandate, following the cities of Culver City, Lancaster, Sebastopol and San Francisco, which passed a similar ordinance a week prior. However, Santa Monica says that its mandate is stricter than any of these except San Francisco’s.

New single family homes will be required to install a minimum of 1.5 watts of solar PV for every square foot of the building, meaning that a 2,000 square foot (186 square meter) home would need a minimum of 3 kW of solar PV. Multi-family buildings, non-residential buildings and hotels will be required to install 2 watts of PV for every square foot of building footprint.

The city has argued that the benefits of installing solar outweigh the additional cost. The city estimates that new solar PV is expected to add 2.8% to the cost of a single-family home while long-term electricity costs will be reduced an average of 65%, ultimately meaning savings for homeowners.

Santa Monica has very expensive real estate compared to other parts of the United States, and as such up-front costs will likely be borne by high-income homeowners.

The requirement is also in line with Santa Monica’s commitments to sustainability, including its plans to reach carbon neutrality by 2050. ”This is not only the smart thing to do, it is also imperative if we are to protect our kids and grandkids from the worst effects of climate change,” states Santa Monica Sustainability Manager Dean Kubani.

In 2008 Culver City, also in Los Angeles County, passed a requirement that all new buildings must host solar PV in 2008. This was followed by Lancaster, California, which was the first to require PV on new residential buildings in 2013. Sebastopol’s requirement came shortly thereafter.

The idea of mandating solar is not entirely new. A number of cities around the world, including Beijing, require the use of solar water heating in new buildings. Israel passed the first mandate at the national level in the 1980s, as a response to political concerns over imported oil.