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Workers install solar panels on homes in Corona, California. Photo: Will Lester/Inland Valley Daily Bulletin via Getty Images

Earlier this month, the California Energy Commission mandated that all newly constructed low-rise residential buildings must include solar power

Why it matters: While California prides itself on its leadership on climate change and innovative energy technology adoption, this decision is likely to misfire. Forcing people to install solar panels may actually exacerbate grid problems, creating negative secondary impacts without meaningfully greening the electricity system.

Most experts agree that the electricity grid will become more decentralized, with generation coming increasingly from customer-sited equipment. But even Elon Musk, a vocal proponent of solar roofs, believes that ultimately the grid will still get two-thirds of its supply from large, central generating plants, in part because electricity is much cheaper to produce at scale. Rooftop solar, given its cost disadvantages and small market share, is not the most cost-effective avenue to greening our electricity supply. 

In fact, in California, there is a mounting problem of too much solar during the sunniest parts of the day, which cannot then meet the system's demands when the sun goes down, barring expensive storage solutions. This means that the value of solar energy produced by these panels will actually decline as more are installed. 

Some experts also warn that the mandate will increase housing costs at a time when prices are beyond the reach of many lower-income people. It would be cheaper for homeowners, and more cost-effective overall, to focus on solutions to current problems, including well-placed storage that addresses the challenge of after-dusk solar supply.

The bottom line: The California Energy Commission has made a mistake. It makes sense to require new homes to be energy efficient and solar-ready, but California's climate goals would have been better served in this case by more informed regulation.

Ron Dizy is managing director of the Advanced Energy Centre at MaRS.

Go deeper

Trump bump: NYT and WaPo digital subscriptions tripled since 2016

Data: Axios reporting and public filings; Chart: Axios Visuals

The New York Times and The Washington Post have very different strategies for building the subscription news company of the future.

The big picture: Sources tell Axios that the Post is nearing 3 million digital subscribers, a 50% year-over-year growth in subscriptions and more than 3x the number of digital-only subscribers it had in 2016. The New York Times now has more than 6 million digital-only subscribers, nearly 3x its number from 2016.

Ben Geman, author of Generate
1 hour ago - Energy & Environment

Biden's emerging climate orbit

Photo illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios. Photo: Win McNamee/Getty Images

As of Tuesday morning, we know a lot more about President-elect Joe Biden climate personnel orbit, even as picks for agencies like EPA and DOE are outstanding, so here are a few early conclusions.

Why it matters: They're the highest-level names yet announced who will have a role in what Biden is promising will be a far-reaching climate and energy agenda.

Janet Yellen is back

Photo illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios. Photo: Hannelore Foerster/Getty Images

A face familiar to Wall Street is back as a central player that this time will need to steer the country out of a deep economic crisis.

Driving the news: President-elect Joe Biden is preparing to nominate former Fed chair Janet Yellen to be Treasury secretary.