As solar energy’s popularity continues to grow among homeowners, it’s changing the way people buy and sell homes. Because solar has been found to consistently add value to homes, real estate agents need a new way to fairly value solar homes and make sure house hunters can easily find key solar system information. New data standards from Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory will enable thousands of realtors in California to enter details about solar-powered real estate assets into real estate listings for the first time, providing millions of Americans the opportunity to easily buy and sell solar properties.

Without transparent information on a home’s solar energy system, such as the age and ownership details, it’s hard for buyers to make informed decisions. And, if the information is incorrect or missing, it can complicate real estate transactions and cause sellers to lose out on solar’s premium-boosting value. Adding uniform solar data fields into universally used real estate databases—called multiple listing services (MLSs)—is an easy way to prevent these issues from occurring.

With support from the SunShot Initiative, Berkeley Lab set out to create data standards for solar properties that can be used by the more than 700 MLSs around the country. Over the course of 6 months and several meetings, Berkeley Lab and its partners—the Real Estate Standard Organization, researchers, and practitioners in the real estate, appraisal, and solar industries—developed standards for accurately capturing key solar system characteristics in MLSs. Through a mutually beneficial and consensus-based process, the team developed a taxonomy for five fields to describe a solar system: size, age, ownership, output, and the source of the data.

Features such as a home’s square footage or heating and cooling have to be entered into the backend of an MLS database in order to “automatically populate” a set of options for real estate professionals. Entering solar information into MLSs that don’t include these solar data standards is a lot like answering a fill-in-the-blank “other” question on a survey. In these situations, it’s up to the user to find an appropriate place to enter solar data and add relevant details.  Berkeley Lab’s efforts to create this new taxonomy provides a framework to automatically populate solar data for housing markets across the nation, making it even easier to buy and sell solar homes.

The first demonstration of this solar and real estate collaboration launched a year ahead of the project’s goal. In January 2017, the California Regional MLS (CRMLS) adopted power production fields, giving more than 80,000 realtors across California the ability to enter solar energy system data for the first time. Because the CRMLS is the largest MLS in the country and home to many solar properties—in some areas, solar adoption is as high as 20%—this MLS is setting an example for other regions across the country. There are already hundreds of solar property listings in the CRMLS, and listing services covering properties in Massachusetts, Connecticut, Vermont, and New Hampshire are all considering the new standards.

The new solar data standards ensure that real estate transactions remain secure and efficient, while also solidifying solar’s value in the real estate market. An enormous success for the growing solar industry, this collaboration demonstrates that when complementary industries embrace solar, both stand to benefit. 

Learn more about the SunShot Initiative’s soft costs projects and its work at the intersection of solar and real estate

Solar Fly Over California

A neighborhood of solar homes in Livermore, California.