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Solar Panels Become The Hot Commodity

Published on Thursday - September 19, 2013

Market conditions resulting from the housing sector decline have forced construction companies to reevaluate their current development trajectory. Prospective homeowners require more incentives to actively pursue newly developed properties. Accordingly, alternative strategies must be implemented if new construction starts are to attract house hunters. Trends suggest that the addition of solar panels may be the answer. Dubbed as “the next granite countertop,” solar panels have become a hot commodity for U.S. homebuilders.

No longer seen as an optional amenity, solar panels have become a standard option for buyers in U.S. markets. According to SunPower Corp., at least six of the ten largest U.S. homebuilders have begun to include solar panels in new construction starts. Of particular interest, however, are two cities in California that have mandated the addition of similar photovoltaic devices. Experts affiliated with the Solar Energy Industries Association predict demand to increase by as much as 56 percent on a national level within the year.

“In the next six months, homebuilders in California and the expensive-energy states will be going solar as a standard, and just incorporating it into the cost of the house like any other feature,” Jim Petersen, chief executive officer of the PetersenDean Inc., the largest closely held U.S. roofing and solar contractor, said in an interview.

Costs may be cut by as much as 20 percent when solar panels are added during the construction of a house. For those unable to pay upfront, the price may be rolled into a mortgage. According to Tom Werner, the CEO of SunPower, customers can package the $15,000 it takes to purchase a 3-kilowatt solar system with their monthly mortgage.

“You embed it into your home mortgage, you’re cashflow positive month one,” he said.

Werner acknowledges that solar panels are on a trajectory to be placed on the majority of homes, serving as a standard commodity. “We’re rapidly passing the equivalent of a ‘countertops decision’ to a ‘no-brainer.’ You just do it.”

Approximately 494 megawatts, in the form of solar panels, were installed on new and existing U.S. homes in 2012. However, solar trade groups expect those numbers to almost double by the end of this year. Should the trend continue, megawatts might reach 2,175 by 2016.

SunPower, a leading provider, has already supplied components for more than 10,000 homes on a national level, 4,000 of which were built last year in California. Werner expects one out of every five new homes will have solar capabilities by the end of the year.

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