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KB Home to test demand for solar power

Ten of the builder's new Southern California developments will have solar panels incorporated as a standard feature on each house.

March 22, 2011|By Alejandro Lazo, Los Angeles Times

In a nod to the growing popularity of sun-powered houses, Los Angeles-based KB Home said it was rolling out 10 new Southern California developments that would have solar panels incorporated as a standard feature for each property.

The homes will be outfitted with six-panel photovoltaic solar systems built by SunPower Corp. The standard system will be capable of producing about 30% of daily energy use for an 1,800- to 2,000-square-foot home, said Steve Ruffner, president of KB Home's Southern California division. Potential buyers will have the option of upgrading to systems as large as 14 panels, which could cut electricity bills to zero, he said.

Although the solar panel industry has grown rapidly in recent years, particularly in California, the move to incorporate solar panels as part of a development was noteworthy because the market for newly built homes remains dismal, analysts said.

"It's definitely meaningful that they are doing this and particularly meaningful because there hasn't been a lot of home construction," said Shayle Kann, managing director of solar research for GTM Research. "To do something that adds up-front costs to a new home, but saves it money over the long-term by ways of lower electrical costs, is an important step."

KB Home has provided solar power systems as an option for buyers in the past, but this will be the first series of developments with solar energy systems as standard. The company is testing the waters for the popularity of these developments and may expand beyond the Southland if successful.

"The reason we're are trying it here is because there is a great interest in solar power, because of the amount of sunshine we get per day," Ruffner of KB Home said. "We will see how it performs and what the customer demand is."

The 10 new developments will be rolled out this year and in early 2012. The developments are being built in Eastvale, Chula Vista, Temecula, Lancaster, Santa Clarita, Chino, Valencia and Lake Forest. The homes will sell at a premium to new homes without solar systems, but Ruffner said the energy cost savings of having the panels incorporated in the design made them worth it.

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