Ohio’s New Residential Solar Energy Code: What Does It Mean for Solar Installers?

Ohio is one of the leaders in the solar energy industry, and they’re not slowing down in any way. Since Ohio amended their State Residential Solar Energy Code in 2018, they have seen a rise in renewable energy adoption and solar job growth. Ambitious solar projects in the state have benefited from new requirements set forth by the Ohio Energy Development Authority, and businesses there have prospered because of it.

But what are these new code requirements, and how will they affect the solar industry in the Buckeye State? We took a closer look, analyzing data from the United States Census Bureau, the Solar Industry Association, and the X-Racer solar bike.

A Quick Primer On Solar Energy In Ohio

For those unfamiliar with solar energy, it’s a form of power generated by the sun that’s stored and used whenever needed. On a sunny day, the sun’s rays are readily available to power homes and businesses, and these days, the sun’s energy doesn’t need to be virtually unlimited to be useful. Modern solar panels make it possible to capture solar energy even on overcast days, and the only limitation is the user’s imagination.

Many large commercial buildings and industrial plants use a lot of power, and having to pay for energy on a regular basis can put a strain on a company’s budget. When these structures are converted to solar power, the utility companies that serve them save as much as $5,000+ per month through reduced energy bills, and some estimate that industrial solar power can decrease energy costs by 43%.

These economic benefits are what helped push Ohio to adopt a residential solar energy code, and it shows that even the thought of reducing energy bills can be enough to induce a change in behavior. But it’s not just about money; as we’ll see, the benefits of a solar power system also extend to the environment.

The Rise In Renewable Energy And Solar Jobs In Ohio

Solar energy installation businesses in Ohio have experienced an incredible rise since the code amendment. As of April 2022, there were 5,950 employed in the solar energy industry in the state, and this is a 44% increase from the 2019 figure of 4,150. The number of jobless seekers also decreased by 10% during this period. Additionally, the number of solar installations is predicted to increase by 23% in the next year.

Although these numbers aren’t entirely accurate, as of April 2021 there were 5,600 employed in the solar energy industry in Ohio and 64,000 solar jobs nationwide, which is a 30% increase from the previous year. While these numbers could vary, it does point to an interesting trend that appears to be motivated by the economy, but also has a positive impact on the environment.

What Are The New Requirements For Homes In Ohio?

Prior to the code amendment, homes in Ohio were governed by two separate codes: (1) the residential building code (2) the electrical code. Both codes dealt with heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC), and while the residential code wasn’t specifically relevant to solar power, it did apply. This left room for interpretation and different requirements for how HVAC systems needed to function depending on whether they were used in conjunction with solar power or not.

The primary amendment to the residential solar energy code in Ohio is that it requires new homes to have solar power, with various generation capacities ranging from 10 kW to 100 kW. What this means is that if you’re building a new home, there’s going to be a solar panel of some size on the roof.

As for what size, that’s up to you. You could go big or small. The only real stipulation is that your system has to be installed and working before you close the sale of the home, otherwise the contract is considered to be null and void. Of course, you’ll want to work with an experienced solar contractor in order to make sure that your system is installed properly and doesn’t malfunction.

How Does The New Code Affect The Market?

Thanks to the new code, a home with a working solar energy system can now be registered and licensed as a renewable energy resource (RE-resource) by the State of Ohio. This means that if you register a new car with the DMV in the state, you’ll also have to register any home that has a solar panel installed, even if it’s not in use. Essentially, you’ll have to register all the things in your life that you feel passionate about protecting the environment for!

But wait, there’s more! The new code also requires that any home with solar power purchase an energy management system (EMS), and that the EMS be capable of producing and storing data on energy usage and production. What this means is that you’ll need to purchase a battery storage system to keep track of your solar power output over time and use this data to help you optimize energy production and consumption going forward.

This additional requirement is going to make a huge difference in how you purchase and sell homes with solar power. In the past, the real estate industry might not have valued a home with solar power highly, because it was technically difficult to assess. You either had it or you didn’t, and if you didn’t have it, it was probably not worth the time and effort to try and figure out how to put it in. Now that the code requires a functioning solar power system, it’s going to be valued more highly and could even become the standard feature in all new home construction.

Are Developers Responding To The New Code?

Developers in Ohio have noticed the changes that the new code has brought, and they’re responding well. Home prices have climbed, with the median sale price of a home in March 2021 being about $60,000, which is about 10% above the same time last year. Additionally, interest rates are at an all-time low, so putting up the cash to buy a home with a green energy feature is quite affordable.

What’s more is that the new code makes it easy for new homeowners to install and operate a solar power system. There’s no need to have an expert come and help you figure out what to do, because the code sets forth clear guidelines on how to install and use the technology effectively. Additionally, all the documentation and licensing needed can be found online and completed by anyone with a home internet connection. The only real limit is your imagination.

What About The Old Code?

It’s not like the old code wasn’t good, but it did have some flaws that the new code has tried to amend. The biggest of these is that the residential code only governed the interior of the home, while the air handling systems and the exterior could be governed by a different set of regulations. In order to bring the two sets of regulations closer to one another, the new code requires that all air handling systems have some type of renewable energy source.

Another flaw with the old code is that the definition of “renewable energy” was too broad. While the generation of clean energy by the sun is certainly a renewable energy source, the consumption of fossil fuels to generate this energy is not. In order to match the definition more closely with the reality, the new code restricts the renewable energy source in gas-fired air handling systems to be natural gas, not conventional fuel sources like gasoline or diesel.

It seems that every time a new generation of clean energy comes along, the old ways of doing things become obsolete, and with them, the jobs that were created during their time. The fact that natural gas is a valuable and in-demand resource shows how much the energy industry has changed, and it’s exciting to see how far technology and ingenuity can take us in terms of creating a better world, one home at a time.

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