With all of its sunshine, it is not surprising that California is a national leader in generating electricity with solar photovoltaic (PV) panels. Much of the development of the solar electric industry happened in California and, since the mid-1950s, scientists and researchers have participated in installing solar powered instruments in locations far from the grid, such as satellites and remote Indian villages. At an average of 5.4 kilowatts per hour per square meter per day (kWh/mÂ²/day), California enjoys a year-round solar resource. Compare that to Germany, which, while getting by on only 3.0 kWh/mÂ²/day, is currently the world leader in solar generation capacity.
A long, bright history
RGS Energy got its start in 1978 as Real Goods, a sustainable living store in Northern California that sold some of the first retail solar
panels in the United States. It still sells and installs systems in California as well as many other states.
In terms of generating industrial strength capacity, ARCO (Atlantic Richfield Company) was the first California company to produce more than 1 megawatt (MW) of electricity with solar energy, in 1979 in Camarillo. Four years later, its affiliate ARCO Solar dedicated a 6 MW facility in the Carissa Plain, which powered more than 2,500 homes.
In 1996, Gov. Pete Wilson’s government created the first incentives for installation of solar PV systems under the Renewable Energy Program. Six years later, the state passed a law requiring its utilities to access at least 20 percent of their electricity generation capacity from renewable resources by the year 2017. Three years after that, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger invited citizens to join the solar power movement by asking them to install 1,040 MW of new solar capacity by 2016. The state introduced rebates and tax incentives to further entice its electricity consumers to solar. In 2009, California’s “Net Energy Metering” policy was adopted, requiring utilities to pay consumers for the excess electricity generated by their home or business PV system. On this strong foundation, the California solar industry again led the nation in 2011, when it passed the one Gigawatt (GW) mark for solar electric capacity.
Continued strong leadership
The California solar industry is continuing to grow. State policy continues to require reduction of fossil fuel-based energy generation and such power plants are being taken offline in favor of public and privately owned renewable energy generation units. By the end of 2014, more than 11,535 MW of solar electric generation capacity was online, generating enough power to support over 2.8 million households. The $11.7+ billion invested in solar technology employs over 54,000 people.
Government incentives support strong growth
The forward-looking leadership of California has allowed the expansion of solar capacity from just 198 MW in 2006 to over 3,220 MW today. Offering tax and rebate incentives allows the government to reduce residents’ tax bills at the same time they are saving money on energy costs. Innovations in the industrial and utility sectors are creating more efficient equipment and processes, as well as easing access restrictions between distributed generators (homes and businesses with solar PV systems) and public utility generators. Not least important, the health benefits of reducing the formerly famous smog situation in Los Angeles are truly priceless for that population.
California’s renewable portfolio standard
With the strongest standard in the country for renewable energy generation, California previously required its investor-owned utilities to generate at least 33 percent of its state-wide power resource with renewable energy sources by the year 2020. The state surpassed itself just this month, however, by passing SB 350, which requires the state to achieve 50 percent of its energy generation capacity with renewable sources by the year 2030. Sean Gallagher, the Solar Energy Industry Association President of State Affairs, states, “The passage of SB 350 is a huge win for Californians and solar power is going to be key in making this win a reality.”
Residential California Solar Initiative program
California incorporated citizens into its solar evolution by establishing the California Solar Initiative program. The program allocated more than $2.16 billion for rebates to private owners of solar PV systems. It was so popular, the utility-managed residential rebate project exhausted its budget and closed more than four years earlier than predicted, although there are some local utility rebates still available for residential. Commercial installation rebates are still available, although at 20 percent less than they were priced at the start of the project. The project was responsible for installation of more than 1,544 MW of solar generation capacity state-wide.
According to Sachu Constantine, policy director for the California Center for Sustainable Energy (CCSE), of the 7.8 million single family homes in the state, only 2 percent have solar power generation. He stressed the importance of continued attention to non-incentive benefits to the state of the project, including reduced energy costs through net metering, streamlined permitting processes and easier grid connections.
California established a significant goal for itself when it committed to producing 50 percent of its state-wide electricity needs with renewable energy sources in just 15 years. Its history of innovation and leadership however, make it a safe bet that the state will accomplish that goal, probably before the deadline, and definitely for the benefit for all of its citizens.
RGS Energy has almost 40 years of experience in installing solar energy systems in California and other states. To find out how solar energy could power your home, visit www.rgsenergy.com.