Boston Launches Residential Solar Energy Rebate Program

killbourn-shear-solar-system-renew-bostonIn recent years, Massachusetts has become a pretty good place to install a solar home energy system. The reason? A number of factors — a statewide solar rebate program, a market for solar renewable energy credits, and relatively high conventional electricity prices — combine to make a good financial proposition out of installing solar panels.

To help things along further, Boston last week launched a program toencourage residents to install solar photovoltaic (PV) systems.

“Solar panels provide up to 90 percent of the annual electric usageand in days like today, with the longest period of daylight, the meteris running backwards, selling power back to the grid and to me that’sincredible,” said Mayor Thomas M. Menino.

The Boston Herald has more:

The mayor joined Katharine Kilbourn and Scott Shear whorecently installed 22 solar panels on the south-facing roof of their1860s farm house in Jamaica Plain. A comparable system costs about$25,000. But with the federal tax credit of $7,500, the state cleanenergy credit of $5,000 and the city’s rebate of $3,000, the initialcosts can be cut by as much as 62 percent. In addition, the excesselectricity is sold back to the power company.

“We are taking what has been a five-and-one-half yearpayback and reducing it to less than four years,” said James Hunt, thecity’s chief of environment and energy. “This is one of the mostcost-effective things that all residents can do.”

Boston’s program is being made possible thanks to a $140,000 grantfrom the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, which authorized thecreation of the Energy Efficiency and Conservation Block Grant for small residential solar PV installations. Assuming each Boston applicant gets the maximum allowable solar rebate of $3,000, the program will haveenough funding for about 45 projects. Don’t expect the funds to last too long, in other words…

For more information on the Boston solar rebate program, visit

Photo credit: Renew Boston

Boston Launches Residential Solar Energy Rebate Program

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23,000 Solar Panels to be Installed Across San Diego School District

san-diego-schools-solar-powerWith its ample sunshine and relatively high electricity rates, southernCalifornia offers what are arguable the country’s most favorableconditions for solar power. The decision makers at San Diego UnifiedSchool District (SDUSD) seem to understand this — and are aiming to take advantage.

In partnership with AMSOLAR Corporation, SDUSD will see some 23,000solar photovoltaic (PV) panels installed atop 80 roofs at 22 sitesacross San Diego. At 5 megawatts (MW) in size, the system as a whole isexpected to provide 64 percent of the required electricity for eachsite, while generating 11 percent of SDUSD district-wide electricityconsumption.

Like most larger-scale solar power projects in the commercial andgovernment sector, the San Diego Unified School District project will be completed under the terms of a power purchase agreement (PPA), which means the district will avoid large upfront costs. Once the San Diegosolar panel array is up and running, SDUSD will pay a pre-determinedrate for the electricity it generates. AMSOLAR, meanwhile, will own,operate and maintain the system.

“The structure of this partnership ensures that the district hasaccess to long-term energy stability with no taxpayer investmentrequired, while at the same time bringing clean, renewable solar powerfor 20 of our campuses,” said Bill Kowba, superintendent of San DiegoUnified School District.

For those who are curious, here’s the list of participating schools:

  • Baker Elementary Benchley
  • Weinberger Elementary
  • Boone Elementary
  • Clairemont High
  • Edison Elementary
  • Emerson Elementary
  • Encanto Elementary
  • Freese Elementary
  • Gage Elementary
  • Johnson Elementary
  • Kearny High
  • Lincoln High
  • Madison High
  • Mission Bay High
  • Morse High
  • Revere Center
  • Scripps Ranch High
  • Sherman Elementary
  • University City High
  • Valencia Elementary

Photo courtesy of AMSOLAR.

23,000 Solar Panels to be Installed Across San Diego School District

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Samsung to Release New Solar Power Netbook

18-Samsung-NC215S-solar-laptopIt must be the year of the solar laptop. Or something…

Earlier this month, we relayed a few images of a solar-powered laptop concept by Italian designer Andrea Ponti.

Not to be outdone, Samsung yesterday confirmed that it will soonoffer a solar-powered netbook in the U.S., parts of Africa and Russia.

Equipped with solar cells in its cover, the Samsung NC215S will gainan hour of battery life for every two hours spent charging in the sun.Under perfect conditions, Samsung says the netbook’s battery will lastfor 14 hours.

Matt Warman, Consumer Technology Editor of the Telegraph, has more:

Initially unveiled at the Africa Regional Forum inNairobi, Kenya, the new device has now been confirmed for the Russianmarket. It is also likely to be popular in African markets, wherepermanent sources of power are often not available. Samsung ElectronicsAfrica hopes to reach $10 billion in sales by 2015.

Those who are expecting an absurd amount of computing and graphics-processing power are likely to be disappointed.

Solar laptop from Samsung (top view)

If, however, you’re looking for a cordless,minimalist machine that can power itself using sunlight — which happento think is pretty cool — the NC215S may be for you.

Ubergizmo reports the solar laptop should be available in the week of July 3rd with a suggested retail price of $399.

Samsung solar laptop (top view)

Regardless of how well Samsung’s new product is received, it’s clearthat solar photovoltaic (PV) cells can power much more than homes andbusinesses…

RELATED READING: Be sure to check out One Laptop per Child, a Massachusetts-based organization that aims to provide school children in the developing world with a “rugged, low-cost, low-power, connectedlaptop.”

Samsung to Release New Solar Power Netbook with 14-Hour Batter


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U.S Solar Market Record Growth Continues

seia-gtm-research-quarterly-solar-report-q12011Growth in U.S. solar energy installations remains strong — very strong.

That’s according to GTM Research and the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA), which together recently released their quarterly report showing that two-thirds more solar photovoltaic (PV) capacity was added in the first quarter of this year than during Q1 of 2010. At the startof April, the cumulative size of all grid-tied solar installations stood at 2.85 gigawatts — enough oomph to power about 600,000 U.S. homes.

Nearly half of all solar-panel systems were installed in sunnyCalifornia, with about one-sixth in New Jersey, the country’ssecond-biggest solar market. The rest were installed in Arizona,Pennsylvania, Maryland, Colorado, New York and other states.

Beyond the growing number of solar installations, the report focused also on domestic solar panel manufacturers, finding that U.S. factories churned out 348 megawatts of solar panels, up a third from a year ago.

While America is making more solar panels and related equipment now than in years past, our share of the global market has shrunk: 15 years ago the U.S. made about 40 percent of the world’s solar panels; by 2008, that figure stood at just over five percent.

Still, it seems there’s a lot to like about the U.S. solar power market.

“On the whole, the U.S. is currently the PV industry’smost attractive and stable growth market,” said Shayle Kann, ManagingDirector of Solar at GTM Research. “This is reflected in our report’squarterly market data and in the comments from global suppliers,distributors, and developers, all of whom see the U.S. positioned tonearly double its global market share in 2011 and support a greaterdiversity of installation types than has been previously seen in anyleading demand center.”

See the full GTM Research and SEIA report: U.S. Solar Energy Industry Continues Record-Setting Growth in 2011

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Google Backs SolarCity to the Tune of $280M


SolarCity is a big provider of solar home energy leases in ten states across the country. Google is, well, Google. The news today is that the two companies are about to get a bit closer.

The Internet search giant made clear its intention to invest $280million to create a fund that will enable SolarCity to finance moreresidential solar energy projects.

“We’re excited to be making our first investment in distributedresidential solar,” said Rick Needham, director of green businessoperations at Google.

To date, SolarCity has to its name over 15,000 solar power projects, having financed about 80 percent of them through lease options. Solar leaseswork from a financial standpoint when the homeowner’s electricity usageprofile is such that their post-solar electricity bill and the leasepayment sum to an amount that is less than their original, pre-solarelectricity bill. State and federal incentives, too, help to make solarleasing a viable options for a growing number of homeowners.

Google, for its part, has invested a total of $680 million inclean-energy technologies. A focus of the company has been large,centralized distribution, like BrightSource Energy’s huge solar energyproject in California’s Mojave Desert. Google’s investment in SolarCitymarks a noteworthy win for smaller-scale renewable energy projects,collectively referred to as “distributed generation.”

Via Todd Woddy of Forbes Blogs,

“We’ve made several investments in centralizedlarge-scale renewable energy projects so the thing that was particularly attractive to us was that this was large-scale deployment ofdistributed generation,” Rick Needham, Google’s director of greenbusiness operations, said in an interview. “By providing more capitalinto this innovative business market and by being one of firstcorporates to do this, we hope others will follow.”

For more information about solar panel lease options, feel free to contact GetSolar.

Google Investing $280 Million to Back Solar Home Leases with SolarCity

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10 Million Solar Roofs: Possible or Pipe Dream?

vt-senator-bernie-sanders-solar-powerLast year, Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont put forth a bill that envisioned solar panels on 10 million roofs across America by2020. It was an ambitious goal that ultimately (and unfortunately)failed to gain traction in Washington.

Now, it appears Sanders is at it again. Along with Sen. John Boozman(R-AR) and Sen. Jeff Bingaman (D-NM), the Vermont Independent is movinghis 10 Million Solar Roofs Act of 2011 forward.

The only problem is that the Senator’s math is a little messy.

Last year’s bill called to for $250 million in funding for fiscalyear 2012, and $500 million annually through 2021. By our count, that’s a total budget of over $4.5 billion.

According to Solve Climate News, however, the most current version of the bill carries a price tag ofjust $250 million spread over a five-year period, starting in 2012.

We’re all for getting more accomplished with fewer dollars. But thenotion that $250 million can spur as many solar installations as $4.5billion is, well, entirely unrealistic. While the “50,000 Solar RoofsBill of 2011? doesn’t have quite the same cachet as “10 Million SolarRoofs,” it’s probably a more accurate name.

Given concerns over the federal budget deficit and looming debtconcerns, it’s not surprising to see a slimmed-down version of theoriginal bill. And though his latest legislative push is much lessambitious, we can’t fault Mr. Sanders for his sentiment — his intentions are good, after all:

“As we lower the cost of solar energy and increase our use of solar,we can create hundreds of thousands of good-paying manufacturing andinstallation jobs in this country,” Sanders said about his effort tomake access to solar more affordable. “This bill also sets strongtargets for American solar energy production, to ensure we competevigorously with China and Europe for solar energy jobs.”

The 10 Million Solar Roofs Act of 2011 is written to work in tandem with the Department of Energy’s SunShot program. Read more, here.

Image credit: SolarServer

10 Million American Solar Roofs Still Possible?


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In Focus: Microinverters

enphase-microinverter-iphoneEnphase Energy, a leading maker of microinverters, yesterday announced the launch of what is being billed as the company’s “most efficient and power technology to date.”

This may lead some of you to ask, What the heck is a microinverter?

Luckily for everyone involved, GetSolar’s very own Annie Lindseth has already has a concise explanation:

Solar panels need (micro)inverters to convert the electricitythey produce to a type that can be used at home. Solar photovoltaicpanels produce DC (direct) electrical current, and household appliancesuse AC (alternating) electrical current. AC and DC refer to the direction that electrons flow when electricity is created.Technical details aside, the key point is that electricity produced bysolar panels must be converted from its raw form to a more usable one.Inverters make this conversion possible.

Micro-inverters perform this energy conversion for individualpanels or small groups of them, not for the entire system.Traditionally, a solar system would have one inverter for all of thepanels, which limits the amount of equipment needed. However,micro-inverters offer adefinite efficiency advantage. Here’s why: With a traditional inverter, the solar system can only reach the efficiency of the least efficient panel. Efficiency can vary because of dirt on thepanels, shading, or mechanical malfunctions. If each panel has its owninverter, however, all can operate at their maximum possibleefficiencies, optimizing the amount of electricity produced in the whole system.

Ta-da! With this in mind, it’s worth noting that this addedefficiency does typically come at a higher cost: solar home energysystems with microinverters generally cost more than systems that have a centralized inverter.

This latest announcement from Enphase is noteworthy for a number of reasons. Among them, the new 215 Microinverter:

  • Comes with a 25-year limited warranty (Enphase previously offered a 15-year warranty)
  • Offers record efficiency (a weighted power conversion efficiency of 96 percent according to CEC guidelines, for you tech dorks)
  • Delivers 13 percent more power (at 215 W AC) than previous generations

Beyond Monday’s news, Enphase’s press team has been active lately. Last week the company released data that it claims show the reliability of microinverters to be 45 to 70 times greater than traditional centralized inverters.

We’ve All Heard About Solar Panels… But What the Heck is a Microinverter?

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Is This The Greenest Laptop Ever Made’?

Luce Solar Panel Computer

We’ve seen a slew of solar-powered chargers designed for use with personal electronics. Here’s but one example. But how about getting rid of all the plug-in peripherals and instead go with a laptop that runs entirely on solar power?

That seems to be the goal of Andrea Ponti, an Italy-based industrial designer.

Luce Solar Panel Laptop

His concept for the Luce Solar Panel Powered PC envisions a personal computer powered by two solar cells, one on theback of the monitor, another underneath a touch keyboard. As designed,the cordless laptop includes a battery and weighs about four pounds.

Granted, it’s not clear the laptop has been successfully tested.Laptops generally consume a fair bit of power relative to what smallsolar cells are capable of putting out, which means Ponti’s design maycome up against some energy-deficit limitations.

Fear not, TechCrunch’s Matylda Czarnecka has come up with a potential work around: “One solution could be to use an electronic ink display in place of the usual backlit flat panel.” No kidding. Amazon’s Kindle, which relies on ink display technology, is a true energy miser: it can go an entiremonth without needing a recharge.

The laptop’s limitations aside, Czarnecka is intrigued, saying the product “could become the greenest laptop ever made.”

It bears noting that Ponti is hardly the only person thinking aboutsolar-powered personal electronics. A while back, none other than Apple filed a patent application for “harnessing external light to illuminate a display screen.”

Solar Powered Computer Could Become ‘Greenest Laptop Ever Made’

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FPL Solar Rebates Start June 21st, Expected to Go Fast

fpl-solar-rebateHold on to your hats… Florida Power & Light (FPL) is gearing up tolaunch a $15.5 million solar rebate pilot program. The funds areexpected to go fast.

“We expect the available funding to be claimed very quickly so weencourage interested customers to start researching projects and meeting with contractors as soon as possible. I believe similar programs fromTECO and Progress were fully claimed in less than two days,” said FPLspokeswoman Jackie Anderson, according to The Palm Beach Post.

Starting June 21, FPL customers looking to install a solarphotovoltaic (PV) system or a solar water heating system can apply toreceive rebates according to the following schedule:

Residential Solar PV: The residentialsolar PV program will provide an incentive of $2,000 per kW of the rated direct-current (DC) output of a PV system up to a maximum of $20,000.FPL estimates rebates will be available for about 400 customersdepending on the size of the systems installed.

Business Solar PV: The business PVprogram will provide a variable incentive depending on the output of the system. The rebate will be up to $50,000 per site during the life ofthe program and will be calculated as: $2 per DC watt nameplate ratingof the solar panel up to the first 10 kW; $1.50 per DC watt nameplaterating of the solar panel from 10 kW up to 25 kW and $1 per DC wattnameplate rating of the solar panel greater than 25 kW. Businesses withmultiple locations can receive a maximum combined rebate of up to$150,000 per funding year. FPL estimates rebates will be available forabout 80 customers depending on the size of the systems installed.

Residential Solar Water Heating: FPL’s residential solar water heating program will provide $1,000 per installed solarwater heater. A solar water heater can cut a family’s water heatingcosts by up to 85 percent, according to the Florida Solar Energy Center(FSEC).  FPL estimates rebates will be available for about 4,500customers depending on the size of the systems installed.
Business Solar Water Heating: Business customerswill be eligible for a variable rebate based on the size of the systeminstalled that will equal $30 per 1,000 BTUh/day of the maximum ratedoutput of the installed system. The maximum incentive during the life of the program is $50,000 per site. Businesses with multiple locations can receive a maximum combined rebate of up to $150,000 per funding year.FPL estimates rebates will be available for about 50 customers depending on the size of the systems installed.
Some Florida residents may be wary of solar rebate programs after watching the state waffle on its obligations to pay homeowners under a statewide initiative. The FPL program is abit different, however, and does not draw from public funds.

In addition to the FPL solar rebate, Florida homeowners can alsoavail themselves of a federal tax credit worth 30 percent of the entireinstalled cost of their system. If you’re thinking about going solar, we encourage you to get a solar home energy quote ASAP, as these funds are likely to go like hotcakes.

Customers of Progress Energy should review its SunSense rebate program.

Florida Power & Light Solar Rebates to Go Fast, Starting June 21

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Boeing Goes Solar at South Carolina Facility $BA

Boeing-solar-roofSouth Carolina gets plenty of sun. But a combination of cheap conventionalelectricity and the lack of robust renewable-energy incentives hasconspired to keep the state far from realizing its full solar potential.

Until now, maybe.

Announced several weeks ago, South Carolina Electric & Gas isplanning a single solar project that will — in one fell swoop — triplethe amount of solar photovoltaic (PV) power installed statewide.

At around 2.6 megawatts, the array will comprise 18,095 solar panelsand cover 10 acres of roof space at Boeing Co.’s new 787 Dreamlinerassembly plant at Charleston International Airport.

As relayed by the Charleston Post and Courrier, it was recently announced that the project will be designed and installed by Raleigh, North Carolina-based Baker Renewable Energy. ”This single project will be the equivalent to twice the solar that hascurrently been installed in the state of South Carolina,” said Baker’sexecutive vice president, Jason Epstein.

The PV system will generate enough electricity to power theequivalent of about 250 homes, which should help bring Boeing closer toits ambitious goal of powering the $750 million plant using onlyrenewable energy sources.

Finally, it’s worth noting that South Carolina homeowners who gosolar are entitled to a state tax credit worth 25 percent of theinstalled system costs — this in addition to a 30-percent federal credit available to all Americans with enough tax liability.

Image credit: Solar Thermal Magazine

Boeing Going Solar, To Host Huge Array at South Carolina Facility

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MOO! California Dairy Installs Big Solar Energy System

lakeside-dairy-solar-californiaLakeside Dairy in California’s central valley has installed a big solar powersystem that will cut its use of conventional electricity by 75 percent.

Developed, designed and installed by SPG Solar — one of the biggestcommercial solar installers in California — the 891-kilowatt (kW) solararray comprises 3,240 Suntech solar panels and two big Solaroninverters.

According to GetSolar’s online solar power calculator, an 890-kW DC solar power system in the dairy’s region should producearound 1.2 million kilowatt hours (kWh) of electricity in its first year of operation. That’s enough juice to power about 100 typical U.S. homes annually.

Like many businesses, Lakeside Dairy installed the system in part to help smooth operating costs.

“The recent volatility of milk prices has underscoredthe importance of hedging our input costs,” said Mike Monteiro, thedairy’s owner. “The solar energy system will help us fix our energycosts and hedge against long term increases in utility power rates.”

Agricultural electricity rates tend to be less expensive than bothresidential and commercial rates, a trend that can make it difficult for solar to compete on a cost-per-kWh basis. In Lakeside’s case, the dairy was able to secure a long-term loan from Rabobank, N.A., a communitybank that provides financing to California farms. With help from SPGSolar, Lakeside was also able to nail down some helpful California solar incentives before they dried up.

“By combining the savings from lower utility power bills with federal and state incentives, Rabobank structured the term loan to potentiallybe cash flow positive throughout the lifetime of the loan,” saidGianluca Signorelli, Vice President of Renewable Energy Finance forRabobank. “Once the loan is repaid, the solar system is likely to create even larger savings for Lakeside Dairy.”

Covering a full four acres, the solar power system now powers much of the dairy’s operations, including an 11,000 square-foot milking barn,heifer corral, lighting, fans and well and irrigation equipment. Thefamily-run farm milks 7,000 (happy, green) cows.

Green Cows are Happy Cows: California Dairy Installs Big Solar Energy System

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SRP Relaunches Solar Power Rebate in Arizona

srp-solar-rebate-logoGood news for Arizona residents who are customers of Salt River Project(SRP): the Arizona utility recently relaunched its popular solar rebateprogram after a months-long hiatus during which an interim rebate was available.

As of May 1, SRP customers who install a residential solarphotovoltaic (PV) energy system will be eligible to receive a rebateworth $1.35 per watt (solar panels are sized in watts). The rebate willbe capped at 5 kilowatts (kW), which means that a homeowner who installs a system that’s 5-kilowatts or bigger in size could receive $6,750 inincentives.

Here is SRP’s explanation of how it has restructured the program:

SRP has set aside funding for a total of 4.5 megawatts(MW) of residential solar electric installations through April 30, 2012. The incentive level is offered at $1.35 per watt, up to 5 kilowatts(kW) for the first 2 MW of installations and adjusts to $1.20 per wattfor another 1.5 MW of installations, ending at $1 per watt for theremaining 1 MW of installations.

In addition to solar rebates offered by SRP and other utilities, like APS and Tucson Electric Power, Arizona residents can also takeadvantage of a $1,000 state tax credit, as well as a 30-percent federaltax credit. Together, these various incentives help reduce solarinstallation costs.

Homeowners who install solar panels enjoy significantly lower electricity bills for many years after first going solar. That 5-kW solar array mentioned above, for example, could reducemonthly electricity costs by about $720 per year, according to SRP.

SRP Relaunches Solar Power Rebate in Arizona
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Japan May Make Solar Panels a REQUIREMENT on New Buildings

solar-roof-hillsboroAs part of on-going efforts to increase the use of renewable energy, Japan may soon unveil a plan to make rooftop solar arrays a required featureof all new buildings and houses by 2030, the Nikkei newspaper reportedon Sunday.

The plan may be announced in a statement on energy policy by PrimeMinister Naoto Kan at the G8 summit, which will be held in northernFrance this week. As relayed by Reuters, Kan will likely make clearJapan’s intention to continue to use nuclear energy after steps aretaken to improve safety standards. Workers are still struggling tocontrol the crisis at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant innorthern Japan.

Like nuclear reactors, solar panels are a low- to no-emissions source of electricity. Solar arrays don’t produce radioactive waste, however.

While many countries, states and municipalities sponsor solar rebates and other incentive programs to promote renewable energy, few have done so with mandates based on building codes. Hawaii, for one, requiresthat solar water heating systems be installed on all new residentialbuildings.

If put into action, Japan’s rooftop solar requirement would helpbring about a relative reduction in the country’s use of other sourcesof electricity, like nuclear energy and natural gas.

Photo credit: A rooftop solar array at the Hillsboro Intermodal Transit Facility in Hillsboro, Oregon (via M.O. Stevens and Wikipedia).

Japan May Make Solar Panels a Required Feature On All New Buildings

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Solar Panels to Come Standard On SoCal Homes

Last month, we profiled a new lineup of energy-efficient homes from Meritage Homes. Not to beoutdone, KB Home today announced plans to make solar panels a standardfeature at its new community in southern California.

Having recently acquired land in West Hills Village in Valencia, thecompany will build energy-efficient homes on 43 lots. Each home willcome with a photovoltaic (PV) solar energy system that will reduceowners’ electricity costs, saving thousands of dollars in the comingyears. The PV solar panels will of course also benefit the environment.

Here’s a requisite snippet from the press release:

“KB Home has a strong relationship with Newhall Land andwe are pleased to be working with them again in Valencia, one of themost-desirable submarkets in the greater Los Angeles area,” said SteveRuffner, president of KB Home’s Southern California division. “We lookforward to introducing area buyers to our Built to Order™ approach, andto offering some of the most energy-efficient homes on the market today, with solar power systems included in every home as a standard featureat this and many more of our new home communities throughout SouthernCalifornia.”

This latest news comes after KB Home announced plans to open ten “all solar” communities across southern California. Notably, some of thecompany’s solar-home offerings are downright luxurious. Potential buyers can selection from “floor plans ranging from 2,941 to 3,646 square feet with up to six bedrooms, four baths, and three-car tandem garages.”

Awesome — now I’ll finally have room to park my three Tesla roadsters. Turns out you don’t have to live in a yurt to be considered green, after all…

Related: KB Home recently announced the launch of its Energy Performance Guide (EPG), which helps buyers understand the likely energy costs of various KB Home models.

You Don’t Have to Live in a Yurt: Solar Panels to Come Standard On SoCal Homes

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