By Joe Rand and Ben Hoen
Solar power is blazing hot in a growing number of communities across the U.S. And nowhere is it hotter than in sunny California. California is home to two out of five customer-owned solar systems in the U.S.
As solar panels become common features on homes, they are becoming part of the process of buying and selling real estate.
How does solar power affect home sales?
Research from the Berkeley Lab, Elevate Energy and the Center for Sustainable Energy shows that buyers think solar is a desirable feature, but that they, realtors and appraisers need more help to find and value solar homes.
California is by far the U.S. leader in solar on homes. The Golden State has bountiful sunshine, historically strong state incentives and some of the highest electricity rates in the country. Homeowners in the hot Central Valley can see summertime bills soaring for air conditioning and pool pumps, making solar a very attractive option.
Back in 2004, California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger set a goal of 1 million solar roofs by 2018, leading to the creation of the $3.3 billion Go Solar California! Campaign. Progress has been outstanding, with more than 537,000 homes, businesses, schools and farms sporting solar panels, according to data from state agencies.
That much solar means that solar homes are becoming common in some neighborhoods.
To find out how common, we worked with the Center for Sustainable Energy (CSE) to analyze solar homes by zip code and compared that with the number of single family homes in those same zips.
We found that San Diego County is an especially hot spot for solar in California, with 21 of the top 50 zip codes in the state. CSE estimates that San Diego County has 76,239 solar homes as of April of this year—that's one out of eight single family homes.
Top 10 California Zip Codes by Percent of Homes with Solar
Zip codes are limited to those with more than 5,000 single-family homes, in the service territories of Pacific Gas & Electric, Southern California Edison, San Diego Gas & Electric and Los Angeles Department of Waterand Power. Data as of April 30.CPUC, LADWP, U.S. Census
And some neighborhoods have much more. Scripps Ranch, on the north side of town, is 26 percent solar, according to CSE, making it the most solar-saturated zip code in the state. Six zip codes in San Diego county exceed 20 percent. (See an interactive database below of the top 50 solar home zip codes in California).
And as the number of solar homes increases, more solar homes are entering the real estate market.
"We've seen a pretty substantial increase in solar homes sales over the past few years," said J. Daniel Geddis of One Mission Realty in San Diego.
He expects solar home sales to increase over time, due to the time lag between when solar is installed and when the house may be sold. "When people put solar on or do a big improvement they don't sell their house right away," he points out.
High concentrations of solar homes in a neighborhood means that home buyers, realtors and appraisers are dealing with them every day.
Yet the standard tool for finding homes on the market, the Multiple Listing Service or MLS, typically doesn't include information on solar power.
"The average buyer is becoming more educated, but a lot of education still needs to happen," Geddis said. "They see solar panels and think 'that's great' but they don't think about whether it's leased or owned, how much they put out or how old they are."
"The biggest problem is getting information out to buyers as well as to real estate agents, since not all agents understand it either," he added.
Berkeley Lab is working with Elevate Energy and a team of experts from the real estate, appraisal and MLS communities to enable agents to add details about solar systems to MLS databases across the country. This will increase transparency and make it easier for shoppers, realtors and appraisers to find solar homes and properly value solar as a feature.
And solar does indeed have value. A series of reports by Berkeley Lab, including Selling Into The Sun and Appraising into The Sun, have found that solar power that is owned by the homeowner can increase the sales price of homes by an average of $4 per watt or $15,000 for a typical system. Premiums are dependent on the size and age of the solar system, the prevailing price of electricity and the "replacement" cost of similarly sized system in the neighborhood.
Many solar systems are not owned by the homeowner, but rather are owned by a third party, which installs it on the homeowner's roof and leases the system back to the homeowner. This third-party arrangement has the potential to complicate sales, but a recent qualitative survey in San Diego led by Berkeley Lab found that sales of homes with leased systems went smoothly with little to no additional effect on home values.
Geddis thinks ownership makes for an easier sale. "The new owner gets an instant benefit without paying for a loan payment or lease," he said. "With the right marketing, that tends to speed up the time on market and usually demands a higher value."
Solar adds to what he calls "the HGTV effect," after the Home and Garden TV network. "A lot of buyers these days want a move-in ready house," he said. "Solar panels are a bright shiny object—a cool new feature, something the neighbors might not have. It compares to a new remodeled kitchen."
And the savings on the utility bill also helps. "Buyers often don't factor in the cost of living in the home, but solar gives them something to think about," he pointed out.
Experience has shown that solar is a good investment, and is sought after by home buyers. Incorporating it into the standard process of home buying will help highlight and capture that value and make it easier for buyers and sellers to get together.
The U.S. Department of Energy's SunShot Initiative is putting a spotlight on issues around solar and real estate. See research, graphics and more here.
The authors are with the Electricity Markets and Policy Group at Berkeley Lab, which conducts technical, economic and policy analysis of energy topics in the U.S. electricity sector. This article was written to highlight work the Berkeley Lab has done for the Department of Energy's SunShot Initiative on solar and real estate. SunShot is a national collaborative effort to make solar energy cost-competitive with other forms of electricity by the end of the decade.
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EcoWatch Daily Newsletter
Jean-Marc Neveu and Olivier Civil never expected to find themselves battling against disposable mask pollution.
When they founded their recycling start-up Plaxtil in 2017, it was textile waste they set their sights on. The project developed a process that turned fabrics into a new recyclable material they describe as "ecological plastic."
Mounting Piles of Waste<p>It is not only the streets of Chatellerault where pandemic pollution is piling-up, but also the world's beaches and oceans. Once there, they can take up to 450 years to degrade and disappear.</p><p>Esther Röling, co-organizer of the annual Adventure Clean Up Challenge held on Hong Kong Island, has seen this waste firsthand. In October the sports challenge pitted teams against one another in a competition to remove trash from 13 hard-to-reach coastal areas around the city.</p><p>They find tons of both disposable and reusable masks, said Röling. "You wonder how it ended up there. Was it just thrown on the ground? Or was it in a garbage bag that broke open?"</p><p>Almost 10,000 kilometers away in Antibes on the sunny French Riviera, it's a similar picture. For the past few months, divers and clean-up volunteers working with an ocean clean-up non-profit called Operation Mer Propre have been collecting an increasing number of masks found on land and in the sea.</p><p>"Since the beginning of the lockdown when we started to count, we've reached 800, 900, [and now in total] 1000 masks," said co-founder Joko Peltier. </p><p>According to <a href="https://unctad.org/news/growing-plastic-pollution-wake-covid-19-how-trade-policy-can-help" target="_blank">UN estimates</a>, up to 75% of all coronavirus-related plastic could end up as waste in oceans and landfills.</p>
The Limits of Recycling<p>Yet not all are convinced the recycling of this waste is possible on a global scale. </p><p>"What those citizen groups are doing is really beneficial but once they collect it, it should just go to a landfill or an incinerator. They shouldn't necessarily expect it to get recycled," said Jonathan Krones, an industrial ecologist and visiting assistant professor of environmental studies at Boston College.</p><p>That's because mask recycling programs like Plaxtil are few and far between and most don't have the benefit of a readily adaptable production process. </p><p>Even in countries with solid recycling infrastructure, he says, the system is designed to separate out specific types of waste like bottles or cardboard.</p><p>"I imagine that it would be technically feasible to develop a separation process to filter out masks, but there simply aren't enough of them to make that economical," he said.</p><p>Collection is a big hurdle, he adds. Since each mask only weighs a fraction of a gram and they're scattered on roads or mixed with other trash, it is difficult and costly. </p><p>"You need a lot of raw material of the right quality to make investing in the recycling technology and the recycling system worthwhile," he said.<span></span><br></p>
Hemp, Sugar Cane and Sustainable Alternatives<p>Some projects are instead addressing the material used to make masks.</p><p>French company Geochanvre have created a mask made primarily from hemp, while in Australia, researchers at the Queensland University of Technology are experimenting with a disposable product made from agricultural waste. </p><p>Biodegradable options are exciting alternatives to reduce the fossil fuels needed for the creation of plastic-based masks, said Krones, but they don't absolve the wearer from the responsibility of what happens afterwards. </p><p>Bio-based masks often need their own composing solutions, he explains, because in landfill they can produce high amounts of the greenhouse gas methane when anaerobic bacteria feeds on the organic material. Methane is known to be significantly more potent than carbon dioxide.</p><p>"I think as long as we have in our mind that we want to have disposability, we're going to have to wrestle with a variety of different sorts of environmental tradeoffs," he said, adding that reusable, fabric masks are the best option available to most people.</p><p>Precimask is developing a clear face covering with an optional visor made from hard plastic, designed to be long-lasting.<br></p><p>Air enters either side of the cheeks through a technology normally found in pool filters and car exhaust systems, said company spokeswoman Juliette Chambet.</p><p>"We wanted to make ceramic-based filters that would be washable and cleanable, which would allow them to be reused as many times as desired without having to buy a new consumable or produce waste," she said. </p><p>Ultimately, encouraging mask wearers to think about the entire lifecycle of a mask is key, explains Neveu. </p><p>"We want people who put on the masks to realize that they are also responsible for the waste, he said. "It's not inevitable that this [pandemic] will become an environmental catastrophe.</p><p><em>Reposted with permission from </em><em><a href="https://www.dw.com/en/covid-19-recycling-pollution-trash-pandemic/a-55707817" target="_blank">Deutsche Welle</a>.</em><a href="https://www.ecowatch.com/r/entryeditor/2649032193#/" target="_self"></a></p>
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