It’s one thing to talk a good game. It’s another thing entirely to put your money where your mouth is. The City of San Francisco, long known for being progressive and innovative, has decided to step up and lead the world in an important environmental policy.
All new buildings in San Francisco will not be required to install rooftop solar panels following a unanimous decision by the board of supervisors. San Francisco is not the first California city to require solar panels on new construction, since Sebastopol and Lancaster beat them to the punch on this initiative. San Francisco is, however, the first major American city to mandate rooftop solar for all new construction – both commercial and residential.
Why is rooftop solar a big deal? According to one recent study by the US Department of Energy, rooftop solar panels could meet 40 percent of electricity demand in the country. That is a very large percentage of overall electricity demand at a time when we are looking for ways to reduce the use of fossil fuel-powered power plants.
Accounting for new construction that is already planned in the city, at least 50,000 new solar panels will be installed in the near future. Those panels will produce enough energy to keep more than 26 million tons of carbon dioxide from being released into the atmosphere every year. That carbon reduction is equivalent to taking 5,000 cars off the road. Now, just imagine if every city required rooftop solar panels.
San Francisco doesn’t plan to stop with the rooftop solar panel requirement. Roofs that are not suitable for installing solar panels may soon be required to have rooftop gardens (sometimes called living roofs). These rooftop gardens do not produce electricity like a solar roof, but they do offer other environmental benefits. Living roofs help to absorb pollution from the air, provide critical habitat for insects and some animals, help to capture storm water that otherwise may overload storm sewer systems, and provide great insulation to reduce the need for energy usage.