Sunday, October 25, 2009

Building Code Revision Proposal: Photo-Voltaic Systems

I wrote a shorter version of the following that was published as a letter to the editor by several Oregon newspapers.

The Register-Guard : LETTERS IN THE EDITOR'S MAILBAG : "Require photovoltaic space" : Appeared in print Sunday, Aug 16, 2009. See here.

Portland Tribune : LETTERS — Readers' Letters : "Solar heyday for Oregon" : Appeared Sep 10, 2009. See here.

Steven A. Sylwester

* * *

In 1971, Oregon was the first state to enact a “bottle bill” law requiring a deposit and refund for returnable drink containers.

Oregon can again lead the way by enacting a statewide building code revision that requires architectural design inclusion of dedicated efficient space for photo-voltaic system installations according to industry-established minimum space requirements for all new construction of residential, commercial, and governmental structures enclosing at least 1,000 square feet of heated space.

All existing structures are exempt as long as no remodeling involves any structural changes to existing roofs, excluding any structural changes that solely relate to replacing or installing gutters, low profile skylights, vents, satellite dishes, and/or roofing. Any structural additions to existing structures that add or alter roof-lines to accommodate additional square footage are not exempt from the code requirements.

Required will be a minimum of 100 square feet of clear roof surface to accommodate solar modules or panels faced due south at an angle that matches the location’s latitude with an allowable 15- to 20-degree variation east or west from due south. The solar panels cannot be located where they will be shaded by trees or intruded upon by vents, chimneys, or other roof structure penetrations. An efficient accessible routing path from the roof array to a centralized inverter and then to the structure’s load center for the PV system’s generated energy will be required.

A careful reader will notice the building code revision only requires that appropriate dedicated space be included in new construction to allow for the efficient installation of a PV system at some time, not that a PV system actually has to be installed as part of the new construction.

The equivalent parallel thinking in Oregon's Bottle Bill is this: as a consumer, you must pay the "bottle" deposit at the time of purchase, and you are then entitled to a refund of that deposit, but you are not required to ever actually collect that refund. The refund might go uncollected forever, or be collected by someone else; whoever returns that particular "bottle" to a grocery store receives the refund.

Similarly, the original builder of a structure is not required to ever take advantage of the established opportunity to collect and generate solar power by constructing according to a building code that maximizes that potential, but any future owners of the structure will have that opportunity fully in place if they ever choose to install a PV system.

Just imagine the obstacles that faced the politicians who championed Oregon’s Bottle Bill, yet they persisted in their efforts and got it done. My proposal can be done, too. If we want to control our energy destiny as a state and as a nation, my proposal is a start.

Steven A. Sylwester
October 25, 2009