You may have seen billboards or advertisements for solar energy near your home. It may be becoming more commonplace for homes in your neighborhood to be retrofitted with solar panels or even come prefabricated with solar electrical equipment. There are incentives in place that have motivated this shift towards solar panels. In August of 2022, President Biden signed the Inflation Reduction Act into law which extended the life of the 30% solar tax credit that has been the catalyst for so many people to go solar. Since its conception in 2005, over 3 million homes have installed solar panels to offset their electrical usage.
Even with the impressive growth, many entities control the details behind your decision to go solar.
Every home in the United States is grouped into local jurisdictions by city or some other governing body. These Authorities Having Jurisdiction, or AHJs, rely on existing codes and their own preferences to institute rules and regulations for all residential properties in their area. The national codes used by AHJ’s are listed below:
NEC (National Electric Code): Outlines the proper connection of electrical systems in the home to ensure safety for the people and their property.
IBC (International Building/Plumbing/Residential Code): Outlines the proper order for everything in a home to ensure safety of all residents and property.
IFC (International Fire Code): Ensures the safety of property and residents from hazardous conditions relating to fire.
Over the years these codes have been updated and changed, but it remains to the discretion of the AHJ to decide which edition to adopt. Some of these changes can be significant. For example, one of the concerns with solar panels is the roof access that firemen will have when fighting a fire. A 2015 fire code setback requires 3 ft. setbacks from the ridge and on both eaves for every roof plane with panels. On the other hand, 2018 fire setbacks only require 18 in. ridge setbacks and only one 3ft. setback from an eave. Compared to an AHJ that follows 2015 fire code setbacks, the 2018 setback is significantly less restrictive and may completely change the PV system size, or number of panels a customer can have.
While solar panels equip the customer with increased energy independence, that independence cuts into the profits of utility companies who operate on a very fine profit margin. Not only will the demand for power from utility companies decrease, but solar energy production is a continuous power source. If there is nothing for it to power in the residential home, the residual production is fed back into the main power grid, which comes at the cost of the utility company as it must pay residents for the extra energy that is supplied to the grid. Because of this, many utility companies impose offset and system size limitations on all the residential areas that it services in order to manage how much residual energy is put back into the grid.
Utility companies also have the ability to impose regulations, similar to the AHJ, regarding the electrical equipment that is placed on the home for the functioning of the solar panel system.
As solar energy increases in popularity and continues to spread to more homes across the United States, rules and regulations will continue to change and evolve. If you are unsure of what rules are already in place concerning solar, your city’s permitting department will have the appropriate references and your utility provider will have documents online that outline their preferences. The best way to ensure that these rules do not negatively impact your ability, now or in the future, to offset your energy dependence is to get involved in your local city government.