As Solar + Storage Ready Becomes A Title 24 Mandate, Smart Technology Helps Flatten The Complexity Curve

If you’re a builder or electrician living in California, you’re probably already thinking about how you can meet the state’s latest push toward net zero: mandated solar and storage in every new home.

As part of the 2022 Energy Code, California has passed a solar + storage ready mandate. Why? The answer is multifaceted. The state is on the front lines of climate change with worsening wildfires, droughts, power outages and peak energy demand.

California has had a solar PV mandate since 2019 and just passed another mandate to phase out gas-powered cars by 2035. Compared to most states, they are on the fast track to phasing out CO2.

The retention decision has its opponents. Battery systems are expensive, lithium supplies are volatile, battery disposal and recycling strategies are not always robust, and not everyone wants or needs a solar battery in their garage. Or do they?

The Square D Energy Center smart panel from Schneider Electric does much more than just keep circuits safe. It offers flexible control over solar panels and battery storage that helps contractors meet the new Title 24 mandate for 2023.
California is feeling a huge energy squeeze, at least in part due to extreme climates. The state narrowly avoided having to trigger rolling blackouts in the fall, and has warned residents that the next heat wave may not be so predictable.

At its core, California’s policies aim to spread the burdens of climate change to the private sector because institutional power grids and utilities simply cannot keep up. Given this reality, the best policy for builders and developers might be to streamline the change rather than resist it.

One way to do that is with smarter home technology. What I mean by this is homes that function more like sophisticated commercial properties, prioritizing systems and appliances and turning off elements that don’t share the same life safety or communication weight.

Solar and storage systems in the right size

Adding battery storage to new homes creates a lot of new complexity in the home’s electrical infrastructure. First, the PV panel and storage must be sized correctly. At the risk of oversimplification, the required PV output must be at least 14 watts per square feet for all available solar roof area (SARA). These roof areas include all roofs on carports and outbuildings capable of supporting solar panels.

The batteries, on the other hand, must conform to a capacity formula based on array size and other factors. You can access the formula in this detailed article.

Batteries are of course expensive and can double the cost of a panel-only installation. EnergySage puts the average storage cost at $1322 kWh installed as of October 2022.

But California has some solid incentive programs. For example, the Self-Generation Incentive Program (SGIP) offers rebates for battery storage based on system capacity. It’s a tiered rate based on first-come, first-served applicants, but a 10 kWh installation can qualify for an incentive of $1500 to $2000.

Batteries, like solar panels, are eligible for a 30% federal tax credit. So if homeowners spend $10,000 on batteries, for example, they should get a $3,000 tax credit in the year of purchase. Until 2023, batteries must be 100% charged by solar cells; starting in 2023, autonomous battery storage systems also earn the credit. This change creates an incentive for existing building owners (with or without solar) to add battery storage.

Remember the end goal here. California utilities are looking for the most affordable way to add more storage capacity to the grid overall. They see the all-electric movement coming on strong and try to avoid taking over the entire new production.

Unlike traditional electrical panels, the Energy Center links to an app that provides much greater transparency to homeowners looking to manage their energy usage, making it an effective tool for managing their on-site energy production and more.

Unlike traditional electrical panels, the Energy Center ties into an app that provides much greater transparency to homeowners looking to manage their energy usage, making it a powerful tool for managing their on-site energy production and more. Image courtesy of Green Builder

How do electrical service panels factor into the equation?

Kevin Prill, president of Asgard Energy in Oceanside, Calif., says the addition of a storage mandate to California’s energy code has sent installers looking for time savings and assistive technology.

With unbeatable timing, Schneider Electric has recently released its latest smart electrical panel, The Square D Energy Center. Originally developed for commercial buildings, it replaces a traditional electrical panel, offering sophisticated, granular level control of individual circuits.

“The Square D Panel from Schneider Electric addresses what the industry is running into in terms of storage and solar,” says Prill. “The energy center saves us time and allows us to easily jump in and control the power flow. It just affects the bottom line when we are able to pass on the savings.”

The energy center offers smartphone-activated control of the smart electrical panel. Homeowners can use it to measure and control power consumption in the home. Contractors can deliver it to clients with almost unlimited customization. An energy center electrical panel eliminates the need for a secondary load panel and allows wiring for both full home and partial home backup.

What is important in terms of Title 24 solar + storage compliance is the electrical panel’s ability to manage both daily power usage and emergency situations.

For example, some versions of the Energy Center have built-in transfer features that will automatically isolate the electrical panel from the grid in a power outage and then restore grid input when power returns (the Universal model does not have this feature). Some hybrid inverters used with solar panels do this, of course, but they don’t do much else.

The energy center has many other functions, including controlling and monitoring the power consumption of individual circuits.

Essentially, the smart panel acts as a sort of user-friendly Swiss army knife for the homeowner. It not only provides the code-required surge protection and wiring failsafe, but adds a sophisticated overlay of command and control.

Perks for homeowners

Because it works with a smartphone app interface, Schneider’s smart panel offers a great upsell story to homeowners. For example, homeowner Jorge Lopez of Costa Mesa, California, upgraded to a smart panel and used the real-time energy information to reduce energy costs.

“I was able to change the times for my pool, my AC equipment, and how I use my washer and dryer and other appliances,” he says. In addition, I have received many compliments on the way the panel looks, from both friends and electrical contractors.”

Article courtesy of Green Builder

by Matt Power, Veteran journalist Matt Power has been reporting on innovation and sustainability in housing for nearly three decades. As an award-winning writer, editor and filmmaker, he has a long history of asking tough questions and adding depth and context while unpacking complex issues.

Related story:

5 facts about energy storage every Californian should know




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