Solyndra Aside, Solar Power in California Ramps Up

As the investigation of the federal government loan guarantee to now bankrupt Solyndra of Fremont, California lingers, with critics looking for the company to come clean, it is may seem odd that California’s solar industry is in a celebratory mood this month.

The fact is that California – the leading market for solar energy in the United States – has reached two critical milestones, demonstrating that solar photovoltaic (PV) technology has come of age.

First, the state has reached the threshold of 1,000 megawatts of rooftop solar PV. This success is large due to the California Solar Initiative (CSI), a state government program launched five years ago with a goal of adding a total of 3,000 MW of solar PV by 2016. At this current rate of installation, this state government program, designed with a long-term goal and stable, but declining rates of subsidies, is indeed working. In the process, CSI is giving California the best bang for the buck (in terms of government incentives per kilowatt installed) of virtually any solar energy market in the world.

These distributed solar PV arrays offer tremendous value to both consumers and utilities, bolstering reliability at the local level, and diversifying the energy economy to spur local economic development. Along with electric vehicles, new energy saving devices and smart grid integration systems, these solar PV systems are literally bringing power directly to the people at their own homes. They are also among the most labor intensive of all power sources, since labor substitutes for imported fuel and the incremental amounts of new capacity added roof-by-roof requires significant hours of installation time and effort.

Distributed solar PV installations, while a shrinking portion of the overall global market, still represents an impressive success story globally, as the recent Pike Research report, Distributed Solar Energy Generation, attests. Costs of solar PV, for example, are declining across the board.

Last week also marked a second milestone at the other extreme of the burgeoning market for solar PV. Ground was broken for the California Valley Solar Ranch project, a 250 MW utility-scale solar PV plant that will produce enough power for 100,000 residences. This giant solar farm shows that solar PV is now capable of competing with conventional large-scale power plants that burn natural gas or coal, serving as anchors of the utility grid itself.

This particular utility-scale project – one of many popping up all over the world – features the solar PV panels of Sunpower of San Jose, the most efficient solar PV products on the market. NRG Energy, which has utility operations in Texas and the East, and has invested in both electric vehicles and green power providers, is one of the project’s key investors.

Last, but not least, some interesting statistics have been complied showing how solar power is putting more Californians to work. As of this past summer, one out of every four solar power-related jobs was in California. According to the National Solar Jobs Census, more than 25,575 out of a total 100,237 solar jobs have been created in California, with Colorado, with 6,186 jobs, at a distant second place.

Solar PV is the most versatile of all available power options. Not only are greater numbers of Californians consuming solar energy today, but both small and large systems are creating jobs throughout the state. For example, the California Solar Valley Ranch project, located near San Luis Obispo, will create 350 construction jobs this winter, pumping $350 million into the local government, all the while preserving more than 9,000 acres of land around the Carizzo Plain, a spot that featured the first large-scale solar PV project in the nation over two decades ago.

Yes, the California solar industry — including its growing ranks of happily employed designers, installers and sales force — are smiling this week, and with good reasons.

Article by Peter Asmus, appearing courtesy the Matter Network.

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