Environmental news from California and beyond

« Previous | Greenspace Home | Next »

Solar energy surges in California


It is far from the "Million Solar Roofs" that Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger touted, but the number of rooftop solar installations in California has grown from an estimated 500 a decade ago to nearly 50,000 today. And in the last three years, the Golden State's solar market has more than doubled.

With city politicians fiercely competing for eco-boasting rights, a new report from the advocacy group Environment California unveils which state municipalities are making the most progress in solar installation. San Diego, with 2,262 solar roofs, beats out Los Angeles and San Francisco, both of which claim to be the greenest city in America. But when it comes to per capita installations, little old Nevada City tops the list, with nearly 1 in every 5 households hosting a solar system. City of Industry, outside L.A., has the most capacity per capita, with 1.5 kilowatts installed per person.

The bad news: Solar power still accounts for less than 1% of energy nationwide. And even in solar-friendly California, it is hampered by the lack of a robust feed-in tariff, such as the one in Germany, which would allow homeowners who install extra capacity to sell their electricity back to utilities at a favorable rate. A bill sponsored by Assemblyman Jared Huffman (D-San Rafael), AB 920, to do just that is fiercely opposed by utilities and has so far failed to garner enough support for passage -- not to mention backing by the green governator.

The Vote Solar Initiative, a San Francisco group, has been lobbying for a bill to lift a cap on the funds available for consumers to offset their electricity bills with their own power -- a program known as net metering, which allows solar-rooftop customers to zero out their bills. The legislation has passed the Assembly and is awaiting action in the state Senate.

-- Margot Roosevelt

Photo: Workers install solar tiles on a conventional roof in Los Altos, Calif.

Comments () | Archives (15)

The comments to this entry are closed.

THE increasing demand for solar energy is a good news. one can say Governor Arnold is charting a great course in California. Of much news worthiness is the fact that other countries are like Germany and Japan are way ahead in this technology

what is driving the solar energy advantages initiatives....?
obviously, there are clear indications that the best form of energy choice is going green.

I believe that public awareness, combined with Government incentives, will lead to a much greater uptake of solar panel electricity, with many ambitious 'DIYers' installing it themselves. Manufacturers of "">solar panel electricity will then continue to gradually reduce "">solar panel cost for solar panels and related equipment, perhaps comparable to the way home computers have become cheaper over recent years

It may be too late for Americans to follow the German lead. Tempered by the falling dollar,and higher than expected unemployment figures, broken banks and soon to rise interest rates, Americans may be lucky enough to survive in burrows, and hollows, Hoovervilles and tent s cities. Shanty towns already abound in America, and New York City has taken up the task of paying for one way tickets out of New York for the unemployed there! The "Lull" we felt in the "Greater Depressio" still continuing to fall over America, was paid for by Trillions in loans and astounding money printing sessions unheard of in the history of our country! Thei "Cover up" cash has dried up, inflation is about to close us down, and purchasing anything, on credit will prove impossible in the near future if not now! California homes that consume such great gobs of power today, will go dark in the days to come! Our dollar has died!

Thanks for this useful post...

Hey Monica,

Here's the answer to your question about why not consider clean coal technology:
Because the Duke Energy Edward IGCC plant won't get built - it doesn't have the funding.

An the reason it doesn't have the funding is because the coal industry won't pay for it.

And the reason they won't pay for it, despite record profits for a record number of years is because it doesn't work and they don't know how much money to throw at it in order to make it work.

That's why the coal industry is begging the government for a handout.

And they're not going to get a handout because coal is the dirtiest fuel to produce from the mining of it to the burning of it.

The coal industry will be broke soon when they start paying for the damage they've done to the climate and to the health of every man, woman and child in America.

So thanks for asking Monica, and thanks for giving us all another reason to remember how evil everyone pushing the scam of "clean coal" is.

For more on the Desertec Industrial Initiative, go to:
for almost 200 video interviews about feed-in tariffs, Desertec, and related subjects, go to: or

Why not consider clean coal technology? Once the Duke Energy’s Edwardsport IGCC plant in Indiana is completed (it’s on schedule for 2012), this IGCC plant will be one of the cleanest coal-based power plants in the world, producing 10 times as much power as the existing unit with 45 percent less carbon dioxide emissions per unit of energy produced.

The City of Los Angeles is guilty of NIMBYism more than anyone else. LA wants to dump its garbage in the desert (Eagle Mountain), suck the remaining water out of the desert (Cadiz aquifer), and bulldoze hundreds of miles of untouched desert for transmission to bring electricity from public lands solely to the LA Metropolitan area ("Green" Path North). Los Angeles shouldn't demand that other regions solve its problems.

I read with keen interest the article on Environment California’s report “California’s Solar Cities”. Although, at first glance, it would appear that Los Angeles is one of the top “solar” cities in California ranking 4th in the number of solar roofs and 3rd in installed watts of solar, the inconvenient truth is that Los Angeles ranks 9th among large cities in the state in terms of watts installed per capita.

For example, Los Angeles can claim 3.5 watts per capita installed compared to 14.3 for San Diego, 15.8 for San Francisco and 16.8 for San Jose.

Ironically, the Environment California article recommends a number of policies for counties and municipalities – none of which have been implemented yet by our City leaders:
- A large scale investment of solar power on municipal and other government buildings (Measure B was correctly seen as a special interest sop by voters this past March)
- Low interest loans for residents
- Utility or property-secured financing (AB-811)
- Lowering or waiving permit fees (LA’s fees have more than doubled in the past year)
- A well-funded, broad-based, on-going marketing campaign to educate and encourage local resident and businesses to invest in solar power.

In addition to Environment California’s policy recommendations, the City of Los Angeles continues to have an under-staffed rebate processing department, which has resulted in LA’s rebate processing times being roughly twice that of other major utilities). These long lead times place an unfair burden on small solar integration companies, exactly the companies that our City should be doing everything to support.

Los Angeles deserves to rank higher than 9th out of 10 major cities in California, indeed there is no good reason we shouldn’t rank 1st in the State. I can only hope that our mayor, City Council and Water and Power Commissioners read this report and see fit to deliver a roof top solar program that we can all be proud of.

Peter Parrish, President, California Solar Engineering

Wow, some kooky math in the comments!

Russ, assuming you live in CA, you should have educated yourself better before blowing $18,000 on a 1.9kW system. That is crazy. If you are in LADWP region, you should have gotten $4/watt off your system (bringing it down to $4/watt), then you should have gotten a 30% federal tax credit (bringing it down to $2.80/watt, or just over $5,000... Even in an SCE or other IOU district, you could have gotten $2.00 - $2.50 off per watt, plus the 30% tax credit, making your system roughly $8,000. Your system would spit out roughly $500-$1,000 worth of power (depending on your electricity rates) each year, making maximum payoff time about 8 years. the next 17 would be pure profit.

Sonia, we don't really measure output "per panel" since panel sizes vary widely. In southern CA, if you know what you are doing, a basic system spits out roughly 1,800 kWh/kW installed. Average SFR usage is roughly 2500 - 6000 kWh/year, so a 2-3.5 kW system (see prices above) would cover 100% of your electricity needs for 25 years. MUCH MUCH MUCH cheaper than paying SCE for that power.

Our government heavily subsidizes coal, oil, gas and nuclear already. trying to act like solar has to be the one power source to stand fully on its own is ridiculous. And who do you think will pay for all the Big Solar and Big Wind and Big Transmission? ratepayers and taxpayers. 100% of cost, plus guaranteed profits in the 12% range, plus pay again for the "free" power. But instead of US CITIZENS reaping the financial benefits of our taxpayer dollars, Big Energy will. Is that better? Doesn't Chevron and Goldman Sachs (the biggies in Big Solar investing) have enough of our money?

Factor in the enormous increases in global warming from destroying the carbon-sequestration of our deserts, the SF6 emissions from the new transmission, and the huge emissions related to the construction and industrialization of the desert (steel and concrete are HUGE EMITTERS), the water waste, herbicides and dead species, and it turns out that we have an environmental AND economic LOSER in Big Energy "solutions."

Factor in the mass eminent domain, the missed opportunity for increased income streams and property values to all of us, the new era of energy DEPENDENCE and MONOPOLIZATION, and the Big Energy wealth redistribution via huge rate hikes, govt. grants and guaranteed ROIs, and we have a DEMOCRACY meltdown in Big Solar and Big Wind - same as we have now with the "status quo."

Margot nails it. What we need is a generous feed in tariff like those already working in 50 other nations (slovenia, iran and mongolia recently passed the United States in energy policy - we are the ONLY major country without a generous feed in tariff which pays people to produce more clean power than they use - right where the power is needed.

As the result of a small inheritance, we put solar on the roof a few years ago. Our choices were between investing in the stock market or trying solar. We didn't have enough money to do a 100% energy system, so we just installed what we could afford, which should have covered 60-75% of our needs.

We spent a year or two adding insulation, in areas not caught earlier, replacing old appliances as they failed, with the most efficient. We have not paid an electric bill since February 2008, and the highest bill we had paid before that was about $40 for summer cooling. We will break even on our investment years earlier than expected, because of rising energy costs. A part of the savings has been in switching out heating to free electricity, so even our gas bills are much lower. It takes careful considerations of how the house and it's occupants work to make the system effective. I like the cleaner, quieter house I now have, plus the fact we have saved ourselves from energy cost inflation in the future. We are really glad we didn't loose this money when the market crashed. I would suggest insulating and saving energy first, and installing only what you can afford. We haven't added more solar to the roof, but every project we undertake now, considers downstream energy conservation. Insulation is the cheapest energy saving one can make after CFLs, but all improvements become a game, once you really understand the stakes.

The CPUC put $3.5 Billion dollars into the hands of the utility companies, PG&E, So Cal Edison and San Diego Gas and Electric. They are supposed to "administer" the solar incentives.

These companies have the most to lose if solar is widely adopted. So, they all say they are in favor of solar, while the work hard to prevent solar power adoption.

Rule 18 prevents property owners from installing solay systems and passing the cost onto willing tenants who would have lower electric bills as a result.

The CPUC needs to wake up and pressure the power companies to stop hindering solar power installations in their territory. Until then, California will have much less solar power than it should.

The California Public Utilities Commission is to blame, and they should be ashamed.

Less than 1% of solar is bad news? I think it's great considering solar's high installation costs. My 1.9 kw system cost $18,000 to install and only provided 31% of my annual power in 2008. With subsidies, it will take well over 10 years to pay off. Without tax credits, it takes nearly 50 years to pay! It's not a great investment.

As for the "build them in the desert" mentality, they are trying, but a bunch of NIMBYism prevents the required transmission and distribution lines from being built. Solar or wind power doesn't do you any good if you can bring the power to the people.

One of the benefits of "distributed generation" such as rooftop solar is that it avoids the need to build new transmission lines, for example from a new solar energy plant in the Mojave Desert to metropolitan Los Angeles.

People don't realize that the average solar panel(s) installed at great expense at homes only produces about 300 kilowatt hours of power. Most homes in So Cal use twice or more than that. Therefore, the technology surrounding solar needs to increase the amount of power generated if solar is going to truly be cost effective for the average consumer. That's not to mention the exorbitant cost of installing the panels.Our government subsidizes the cost, which naturally, the tax payer foots the bill for. We still have a long way left to go!

Why not adopt the German Desertec Industrial Initiative as a model, they plan to tap solar power from the Sahara desert to provide CO2-free electricity for Europe and northern Africa. Looking at the many deserts in the United States it shouldn't be too difficult to find a suitable location for a similar initiative.


Recommended on Facebook


In Case You Missed It...


Recent News
Invitation to connect on LinkedIn |  December 12, 2013, 9:58 am »
New Cook Islands Shark Sanctuary proposed |  December 8, 2011, 8:00 am »