Texas master-planned community, Whisper Valley, implements community solar for greater savings
By Yann Brandt
After years of promise, we are getting a glimpse of the future, in which solar is standard for new homes.
It was just a year ago that California became the first state to require new homes to have solar power in 2020, and plans are being made all across the state to be ready for the coming residential solar boom. California is, as usual, pushing the boundaries of solar policy – but new home solar is growing all across the country even without strong policy.
Solar’s political and consumer popularity have been well-documented. Poll after poll has shown that solar is America’s most popular energy source. That has had a political impact, as new policies – including California’s and 100 percent clean energy resolutions in numerous states – have shown. It also has a consumer impact, with residential solar becoming an attractive amenity for homebuyers.
As the rooftop solar industry continues to evolve to meet this increasing demand with ever more affordable, adaptable, and high-performance solutions, it provides homebuilders with a significant opportunity all across the country. In fact, Texas is home to a development community that is as advanced, clean, and forward-looking as any in the country.
Whisper Valley in Austin, Texas is the state’s first net zero capable community and will eventually include 7,500 zero energy capable homes, each with a geothermal loop field and high-efficiency ground source heat pump, rooftop PV system, and smart home technology. It serves as a shining model of how to develop affordable, profitable, and sustainable housing that consumers want.
While each home’s geothermal heat pump reduces energy consumption by 65-70 percent, its rooftop solar panels, provided by Francis Solar and Quick Mount PV, generate the electricity to power it. Each home is also designed to accommodate energy storage and electrical vehicle charging if individual homeowners choose to add these features to further reduce their carbon footprint.
Key to the success of Whisper Valley is the affordability of the rooftop solar. In large new housing developments like Whisper Valley, the assembly-line installation of the rooftop solar panels is much cheaper per home compared to the cost of a one-off installation while also eliminating the acquisition cost for the homeowner. Such large-scale projects also provide an intensive training experience for new solar installers. Installers working at Whisper Valley benefit from the using the same solar racking and mounting systems.
Installers rapidly gain familiarity with the system, allowing them to be that much more efficient in their work. Although Whisper Valley includes a wide range of different home designs, modern solar installation systems make adding solar panels easy and affordable on all roof types.
As Steve Elmore, Senior Vice President of Francis Solar, explains, communities like Whisper Valley will allow many to achieve sustainable energy ownership.
“The success of Whisper Valley is not dependent upon homeowners’ knowledge of solar technology, the availability of subsidy, or disposable income for a long-term investment into what is otherwise a utility,” Elmore said. “Rather, [homeowners] are purchasing homes with a solution already integrated and saving money on day one – before any subsidies or tax credits are applied – by owning their own energy with long warranties and trusted partners.”
Rolling the cost of the solar panels into the mortgage creates significant cost savings. Solar developers worked alongside Whisper Valley’s architects and engineers to determine the best system designs while ensuring the warranty of all installed products for the homeowner including roofing and electrical systems stayed in compliance.
Housing developers are increasingly recognizing the increased profit to be gained by implementing rooftop solar on community-scale projects like Whisper Valley. Consistently high consumer demand for sustainable housing and the ability to provide it at an affordable cost with rooftop PV— as demonstrated at Whisper Valley—translates into a great business proposition for builders. The fact that a project like Whisper Valley is so successful in a state that offers no subsidies for PV installations is an indication of just how cost-effective solar has become.
If it works in Texas, it can work almost anywhere, and that can mean big things for solar energy, green building, and climate action. Environment America estimates that if builders start putting solar panels on all new American homes in 2020, the United States could more than triple its current solar power capacity by 2045. That level of new solar would also cut carbon dioxide emissions from electricity generation by more than nine percent by 2045.
The trend is clear: rooftop solar will continue to play a crucial role in the ongoing shift to afford- able, profitable, and sustainable housing. Whisper Valley and communities like it offer a glimpse of the future, when it will be standard practice to provide new, Net Zero capable homes with solar already installed.
Yann Brandt is the CEO of Quick Mount PV and the Managing Editor of the SolarWakeup newsletter. With a decade of extensive experience in the solar sector, he has successfully financed over $400 million in solar projects worldwide.