Calif. tops many nations in capacity

Source: Anne C. Mulkern, E&E reporter • Posted: Wednesday, June 17, 2015

California has become the first state in the nation to top 10,000 megawatts of solar capacity, a quantity able to power nearly 2.6 million homes, the latest “U.S. Solar Market Insight Report” said today.

The Golden State’s total solar power tops that of most nations, including the United Kingdom, France, Spain, Australia and Belgium, according to the analysis from GTM Research and the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA).

California crossed that historical point in the first three months of this year when companies installed 718 MW of solar, raising the state’s total capacity to 10,649 MW. The biggest gain was in the utility-scale sector, followed by residential, then commercial. They totaled a $1.7 billion investment across the state in January through March, the report said.

“When it comes to creating clean energy jobs and protecting the environment, California is showing the world how to get the job done,” Rhone Resch, SEIA president and CEO, said in a statement. “To put the state’s remarkable progress in some context, today California has 10 times more installed solar capacity than the entire nation.”

Resch credited rules including the solar investment tax credit, the state’s mandate that 33 percent of electricity come from green sources by 2020 and net energy metering. That policy allows homeowners with solar to earn bill credits for excess power their systems feed into the grid. It has been controversial, however, with utilities in Arizona, Hawaii, Colorado and California seeking revisions. In general, the power companies argue that customers who can afford solar don’t pay enough for grid costs, shifting that burden to ratepayers who don’t have rooftop photovoltaics.

The California Public Utilities Commission is examining possibilities for redesigning electricity rates. That could affect solar customers.

The report cited as one success the completion of the massive Desert Sunlight project, developed by First Solar Inc. and located in the Mojave Desert. Desert Sunlight has the capacity to generate 550 MW of electricity, which is enough to power 160,000 California homes.

Solar development in California, particularly in the deserts, has not been without criticism, however. A report in 2012 from the National Parks Conservation Association named the Desert Sunlight development one of three that never should have been permitted. The others it cited were the Ivanpah Solar Electric Generating System, one of the largest utility-scale developments, and the Amargosa Farm Road Solar Project, then planned for Nye County, Nev. All have been put in places with sensitive species or habitat, the advocates said (Greenwire, Sept. 19, 2012).

Meanwhile, installed solar system prices have dropped 4 percent year over year, SEIA said, and are down nearly 50 percent since 2010.

A recent report by the California Energy Commission showed that more than a quarter of all new homes being built in Southern California are being constructed with solar energy systems. There’s a state goal of having all new homes by 2020 include solar, and talk of making that aspiration state law.

There are 2,226 solar companies at work throughout the state, employing 54,700 people, the report said.