Exciting news for solar enthusiasts! A new rebate program rolled out for the California's affordable housing this week with solar incentives totaling up to $25 million. Utility Commissioner Timothy Alan Simon said he supports the decision to implement the low income solar water heating incentive program because solar water heaters are cost effective, and "the fuel they use – sunshine – is free. This allows us to achieve our goals of delivering cost effective energy savings to low income customers." CPUC President Michael R. Peevey stated that the program of increased incentives "will help ease the financial burden on low income customers." With the program's official launch today, solar water heating incentives for affordable housing will be higher than they've ever been. Qualifying multifamily homes will be eligible for 150% of the top-tier CSI incentive levels for solar thermal, with up to $500,000 available per property.
River City High School in cooperation with West Sacramento's Recreation Center is underway to have a solar heated pool system to the West Sacramento community. Aztec Solar team, headed by project foreman, Tony Cottam, will have the system installed and running by the end of September. The system will reduce the facilities dependency on the gas-fired heater, will save them money while reducing their carbon footprint.
While most pundits in the solar industry agree that solar is the future, questions remain on how they can get there. In California, at least, decisive action is being taken at the state level, as Governor Jerry Brown has charged solar leaders with finding a way to install 12,000 megawatts of distributed solar by 2020. While 12,000 megawatts of distributed solar would allow California to become the leader in distributed solar power, ahead of solar titans such as Germany and China, the 12,000 megawatts are only a part of a 20,000 megawatt solar capacity goal Brown has set for the coming decade.
Brown firmly believes in the viability of a solar tomorrow, as he told solar leaders, “Find the path through the thicket, on the other side, we will have our solar future.” Furthermore, during a conference at UCLA on the sector’s opportunities and challenges, Brown noted that distributed solar is “resilient and secure because it is so distributed.” Brown also noted that energy is a huge part of modern economy, but recognized that there were still issues that need to be addressed, such as technical, financial, regulatory, and coordination problems.
A larger issue, perhaps, is simply the fact that people still don’t know that rooftop solar is viable and a legitimate energy solution, as well as that the solar industry provides local jobs in every community. While panel manufacturing can be outsourced, delivery of the panels cannot be outsourced. In fact, according to solar leaders, two to three times more jobs are actually created in delivery than in manufacturing.
In addition, there remain politicians in Washington who don’t see solar technology as viable. While action has been taken at the state level, the same cannot be at the federal level. Brown acknowledges that the 2008-09 stimulus programs were the largest renewable energy investment programs America has ever had, but remains unsatisfied with the inaction. Gov. Brown remarks that “It’s not enough just to not put up hurdles. … What about getting stuff done?”
While Governor Brown has always been an ardent supporter of solar energy, he realizes all of the challenges holding distributed solar back need to be resolved sooner than later. Brown stressed the need to streamline regulatory hurdles in California’s 58 counties and 400+ cities. "The system has evolved tens of thousands of laws, hundreds of thousands of regulations. You have to push,” he said, because “if we let the process unfold, we’re not going to get to the goal.” Brown believes that strong leadership is vital for success, as he says, “Somebody has to think long term, that somebody has to have authority, and they have to exercise it.”
Realizing all of the benefits of solar energy, it comes as no surprise that more and more people are making the switch. According to the most recent issue of the “Monthly Energy Review,” solar-generated electricity increased by 104.8% in the first quarter of 2011 compared to the first quarter of 2010, the highest increase of any renewable energy source. This dramatic increase has not gone unnoticed, as Intersolar North America 2011, the premier solar industry exhibition and conference in North America, experienced its most successful event ever this past July in San Francisco. With a strong focus on technological advancements and national policy, over 20,000 visitors and 839 exhibiting solar companies from around the world attended the four-day event. Presenters from Bosch Solar Energy, Q-Cells, REC, AEE Solar and CALSEIA partook in panel discussions and engaged in open discussions, promoting a continued sense of growth and learning throughout the event. Despite steps of progress for the solar movement, the amount of homes in the U.S. upgraded with solar systems is about 130,000, or only 0.2% of the total residences in the U.S. But there is hope yet, as more and more people are beginning to recognize the potential savings and the beneficiary ecological effects of owning a solar system. As increasingly more commercial businesses and residential households turn to solar energy, it is evidently clear that the solar movement is on the rise, especially in states receiving abundant sunlight, such as California. Recently, the North American Development Bank (NADB) signed a $77.4m loan agreement for the construction of a 23MW solar energy generation plant in Imperial Valley within California. The project will generate enough energy for approximately 14,000 homes, and is slated to cut carbon dioxide production by nearly one million metric tons over the next 40 years. Solar neighborhoods, an idea that seemed farfetched not too long ago, are slowly becoming more popular in the U.S., particularly in states such as California, Arizona, and New Mexico. With its plentiful sunlight, California is doing its part in paving the way for the U.S. towards a brighter future.