Solar Power

What percent of California power is made by solar panels?

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2011-02-07 21:01:46

A decade ago, only 500 rooftops in California boasted solar

panels that harvest the sun's energy. Today, there are nearly

50,000 solar-panel installations in the state, according to a

report to be issued Thursday by the research and lobbying group

Environment California.



Harvesting Sunshine

As a result, California, the longtime national leader in solar

energy, has a capacity of more than 500 megawatts of solar power at

peak periods in the early afternoon --- the same as a major power


The solar capacity in California grew by a third from 2007 to

2008. It now represents about two-thirds of the national total,

according to a different report that is being prepared by the

Interstate Renewable Energy Council, a nonprofit group promoting

expansion of solar energy.

As the Obama administration pushes for a national shift to more

renewable energy sources, California's example is therefore being

closely watched. Nationally, the states in which solar

installations are spreading fastest are those that provide the most

generous subsidies for them, industry experts agree.

Two long-term statewide programs in California provide rebates

and other financial incentives to encourage rooftop solar panels,

and individual municipalities like Berkeley are also beginning to

offer financing for the solar arrays.

"The thing about California is that they have a consistent

program that has 10 years of funding," said Larry Sherwood, a

consultant to the interstate council.

(The California budget cuts that were being brokered Wednesday

will not directly affect the subsidies because the subsidies are

underwritten by utility ratepayers, not taxpayers.)

New Jersey is a distant second to California in installed solar

capacity with 70 megawatts, followed by Colorado and Nevada, the

council's report said.

The Clean Energy program in New Jersey offers qualifying

residential and commercial customers rebates for energy generated

by solar arrays.

"Typically, New Jersey incentives have been higher, but its

program has had many fits and starts," Mr. Sherwood said.

Within California, solar technology has spread beyond highly

environmentally conscious areas like San Francisco and Sacramento

over the last decade to gain a hold throughout the state,

Environment California's report indicates. As of the end of 2008,

when the report's figures were compiled, San Diego had more than 19

megawatts in capacity from installations on 2,200 roofs, followed

by San Jose with 15.4 megawatts from 1,330 roofs and Fresno with

14.5 megawatts from 1,028 roofs.

"The biggest thing here," said Bernadette Del Chiaro, the

report's author, "is that from farms to firehouses, the face of

solar power is changing. While California's biggest cities have led

the way, the rest of the state and country are quickly picking up

on it."

She added that the cities of the Central Valley, which is both

heavily agricultural and baking hot in the summer, are natural

places for the solar panels. High air-conditioning loads and high

peak electricity rates tend to dovetail partly with the afternoon

hours when solar panels are most effective, she noted, giving

people an incentive to embrace the new technology.

Nationally, residential installations account for about a third

of the energy supplied to the power grid by photovoltaic arrays on

panels; the remainder come from installations on larger facilities,

like government buildings, retail stores and military


Each of the four top-ranked cities in California in terms of

solar power capacity have more electricity available from these

sources than all but six states.

Still, 10 states, led by Colorado and including Hawaii,

Connecticut, Oregon, Arizona, North Carolina, Pennsylvania and

Massachusetts more than doubled their rooftop solar capacity in

2008, Mr. Sherwood said.

While most installations are on rooftops, the number of

larger-scale installations is increasing. Fresno's total output is

augmented by a 2.4-megawatt facility at the Fresno Yosemite

International airport, while the local Sierra Nevada brewery in

Chico has a 1.9-megawatt solar array.

Outside the state, Nellis Air Force Base in Nevada has the

largest photovoltaic generating plant, with 70,000 panels

generating 14 megawatts of electricity, according to the federal

Energy Information Administration.

But even with the increases of the last decade, solar power is a

pipsqueak among energy sources; it represents about one-quarter of

1 percent of California's total energy capacity, according to the

California Energy Commission. Nationally, according to the Energy

Information Administration, it represents about 0.02 percent of

total capacity, but those federal figures are incomplete: they

reflect only centralized facilities, not distributed rooftop


Cost is a major hurdle; installation of a rooftop system is

likely to cost at least $20,000.

In other countries, according to the Renewable Energy Policy

Network for the 21st Century, a research and advocacy group,

government subsidies have led to rapid growth in solar power. The

group's latest report shows Germany as the world leader in solar

power, with 5,400 megawatts, or about 1 percent of the country's

total generating capacity.

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