California Solar Energy Systems Top 1 Gigawatt
From SF Gate
By David R. Baker
California’s rebate program for businesses and homeowners who install solar panels has now funded enough systems to generate 1 gigawatt of electricity – a level few countries and no other states have ever reached.
California officials reported Thursday that state residents have installed 1,066 megawatts of solar systems using rebates from the $2.4 billion California Solar Initiative, launched in 2007 as a way to jump-start the industry.
For perspective, 1 gigawatt is roughly the output of two conventional power plants or one nuclear reactor. A gigawatt equals 1,000 megawatts. Both are snapshot figures, representing the amount of electricity generated at a given instant.
The rebates decline over time and are now 92 percent lower than they were when the program began. But the number of applications received each year continues to rise as solar power’s popularity spreads.
As a result, state officials say the program should reach its goal of funding enough installations to generate 1,940 megawatts by the end of 2016.
“It’s one of the few examples of a program where, if anything, we’re hitting the goals sooner than anticipated,” said Edward Randolph, director of the energy division at the California Public Utilities Commission, which oversees the program.
“The costs are going down as we hoped, and the market is heading closer to self-sufficiency.”
The program is part of California’s Million Solar Roofs Initiative, a $3.3 billion package of financial incentives offered by the state to build a thriving solar industry here.
The overall initiative, created by the Legislature in 2006, seeks to install enough solar systems across the state to generate 3 gigawatts, reaching that milestone by the end of 2016. Solar power’s spread across the state has been aided by plunging prices, driven lower by a worldwide glut of solar panels. When the California Solar Initiative started offering rebates in early 2007, residential solar installations in the state cost $9.76 per watt on average, according to the program’s data. Now they cost $6.19, a drop of 37 percent.
The rising popularity of solar lease programs – which allow homeowners to install solar systems without owning the equipment – has also helped fuel the solar industry’s growth. The California Solar Initiative is reviewing applications for projects capable of generating another 332 megawatts.
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