California Leads the Way in Solar Power

Solar in CaliforniaDuring his first year in office, California Governor Jerry Brown hasn’t just signed the most aggressive renewable portfolio standard in the nation (33% of electricity from renewables by 2020) into law, he’s also called for the deployment of 12,000 megawatts of distributed renewable generation. ‘Distributed’ generation, of course, is typically that which is sited close to energy demand, like rooftop solar.

Twelve thousand megawatts of distributed generation is a remarkable challenge for California’s citizens, businesses, and government. That’s more than 12 times the amount of solar which has been deployed under the California Solar Initiative – itself the most successful solar program in U.S. history – and enough generation to power more than 2.4 million homes. Clearly, there is an enormous amount of effort which needs to be made to reach this goal, in a number of areas:

  • With the state bouncing from one fiscal crisis to the next, policymakers will need to develop cost-effective ways of encouraging renewable generation without using direct subsidy. Most efforts to promote small-scale renewable development take a stick-and-carrot approach – utilities are required to incorporate some amount of renewables into the grid, and system owners receive a direct financial incentive, typically in the form of an up-front rebate and/or tax credit. The previously-mentioned California Solar Initiative is a perfect example, and one which has contributed materially to solar cost reduction (thanks to economies of scale) and the development of local solar jobs. These sorts of direct incentives, though, won’t be around much longer. Expect a new generation of production-based and market-oriented policies to ultimately take their place.
  • As such, we need to continue to work to make solar power more affordable and accessible, while stepping up efforts to show people just how much they can save – short- and long-term – by deploying clean, powerful solar energy on their roof.
  • Additionally, state and local regulatory structures need to be streamlined to make small-scale solar that much easier for homeowners, businesses, and landowners. With REC Solar having installed more than 8,000 solar electric systems nationwide, installation is becoming more plug-and-play with each passing week. Over-the-counter permits, relatively low fees, and simple interconnection to the grid will help solar become cheaper and more available everywhere.

One thing, however, is certain. With thousands of megawatts of solar already delivering energy to Californians, we are well past the tipping point when it comes to renewable energy and small-scale solar. No doubt, there will be surprises. Challenges will need to be overcome. But all of us – together – are building the future, and it’s an exciting journey. What do you think? What, in your mind, are the principal challenges and opportunities surrounding the goal of 12,000 megawatts of distributed generation by 2020? Feel free to add your comments below.

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