California Solar Program Reaches New Major Milestone
The people who care about the environment and work to make changes in their lives to support sustainability understand that it is the efforts of the individual that add up to a global impact. After all, climate change didn’t happen over night. It was decades of collective waste and careless development by millions upon millions of people that helped bring us to where we are today, on the brink of disaster. Yet it is possible to step away from that edge, little by little, day by day. And each small effort eventually adds up to major dividends. That philosophy was on display in California last week, when the state’s alternative power efforts hit a particularly exciting milestone. According to state officials, the state’s solar panels now consistently generate upwards of one gigawatt of electricity.
To put that accomplishment in perspective, California is currently the only state that can boast that level of production, which actually rivals entire countries that focus on alternative energy. And the one gigawatt production isn’t because of government requirements. It’s individual citizens that have made it possible. The state did offer incentives, a set of significant rebates included in the California Solar Initiative, a 2007 plan that included $2.4 billion in funding. Thanks to that support, citizens have installed more than 1,000 megawatts of solar energy production systems. The Initiative’s rebates did not remain at that peak, in fact they are currently 90% lower than they were back in 2007. Yet every year more and more people submit applications to install solar systems.
One gigawatt of output is an impressive feat. That’s basically what a nuclear reactor or two traditional power plants can produce. The rates obviously fluctuate due to the weather and other factors, but that level of production is considered to be available at any given time. And thanks to the success of this program over the past six years, California officials are confident that number will almost double over the next three years. That’s a spectacular rate of expansion, and according to the energy division director of the California Public Utilities Commission, that’s even sooner than they had hoped or projected.
The key is the long-standing gamble that with a financial jumpstart these alternative fuel markets would eventually become self-sustaining. That’s what hybrid and electric motor vehicle proponents are hoping for, and the results in the solar power sector are certainly encouraging. But the government of California is more than doing its part. There is currently a $3 billion incentive package in place, called the Million Solar Roofs Initiative, which is focused on upping the goal to 3 gigawatts of generated energy as soon as possible.
So how close is that to becoming a reality? Given current prices and trends everything looks good. Solar power has spread through California much more quickly than in other areas for a number of reasons. Hardware prices have plummeted, thanks to increased availability internationally. For example, when the rebates were first available to California consumers, installing solar power costs just under $10 per watt generated. That cost is now just a touch above $6 a watt. That’s enough to make it affordable for a much larger portion of the population. In addition, solar arrays can now be leased from the government, so consumers don’t have to make a long-term investment before seeing the fruits of their efforts. And home solar power is only one aspect of the equation. There are photovoltaic power plants in the state as well, that generate energy they then sell back into the grid. Add those to the tally, and California currently creates upwards of two gigawatts of solar energy at any given time. It’s incredibly encouraging, and proves that at least one state is doing what it takes to pull mankind back from the brink.