California Installed More Solar In 2013 Than In Last 30 Years Combined

Sign up for daily news updates from CleanTechnica on email. Or follow us on Google News!

Originally published on ThinkProgress.
By Kiley Kroh.

cailfornia solar installations

2013 was a banner year for clean energy and the U.S. solar industry was no exception. California, the nation’s solar standout, more than doubled its rooftop solar installations last year from 1,000 megawatts (MW) to 2,000 MW. To put this number in perspective, writes Bernadette Del Chiaro of the California Solar Energy Industries Association, it took California over 30 years to build the first 1,000 MW of rooftop solar.

“When utility-scale solar projects are added in, California’s total solar power picture well-exceeds 4,000 MW today — nearly twice as much installed capacity as exists at California’s last remaining nuclear power plant, Diablo Canyon,” according to Del Chiaro.

And California isn’t alone in its rooftop solar surge. “About 200,000 U.S. homes and businesses added rooftop solar in the past two years alone — about 3 gigawatts of power and enough to replace four or five conventionally sized coal plants,” Bloomberg reported.

As record numbers of homes and businesses decide to go solar, utility companies are growing increasingly uneasy about the threat it poses to their existing business model. If more customers install solar panels or adopt energy efficiency measures, a utility will sell fewer units of energy — especially during peak demand when energy costs are the highest. Therefore, utilities will increase their energy prices to cover costs such as grid maintenance and labor and as prices go up, more customers will look to energy efficiency and distributed energy resources to reduce their energy bills, perpetuating the cycle.

Net metering, the process that enables customers to be compensated for excess energy produced by solar panels on their homes and businesses, has become a particular point of contention between utilities and solar advocates. Utilities argue that customers who generate their own power receive too much credit while solar advocates counter that the incentives are critical to the growth of their industry.

According to Bloomberg, net metering fights have broken out in as many as twelve of the 43 states that currently have policies in place. In Arizona, regulators deferred their heated solar battle by agreeing to charge rooftop solar owners a modest monthly fee. California also compromised by extending the net metering program but opening the possibility of rate restructuring in the future. Colorado’s Xcel Energy has proposed cutting the compensation it provides for excess energy by about half, “because it says higher payouts result in an unfair subsidy to solar users.” And Hawaii, where customers pay the highest energy prices in the nation, the rush to install rooftop solar was so strong that the state’s largest utility has blocked new rooftop solar customers from connecting to the grid. The move puts “hundreds if not thousands of the state’s residents are being put in solar limbo by a virtual moratorium on new connections in many parts of the company’s service area,” Bloomberg reported.

Net metering has also attracted the attention of the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), a secretive group backed by corporations, fossil fuel interests and the Koch brothers. Last year, ALEC failed in each of its campaigns against clean energy but the organization shows no sign of slowing the attacks next year. Characterizing homeowners with their own solar panels as “freeriders on the system,” John Eick of ALEC’s energy, environment, and agriculture program told the Guardian net metering “is an issue we are going to be exploring.”

At its December meeting, ALEC members took up a draft resolution that calls on state legislators to “update net metering policies to require that everyone who uses the grid helps pay to maintain it and to keep it operating reliably at all times.”

GTM Research recently forecast that by the time the books were closed on 2013, more than 400,000 solar projects will be operating across the U.S. and installations will have grown 27 percent over 2012, with a 52 percent growth rate in the residential sector alone. But the report also cautioned that “challenges to net energy metering regulations present a looming threat to the market.”

In California, “rooftop solar continues to face battles on multiple fronts with regards to net metering, incentives for solar heating and cooling systems, the future of tax credits, and the reining in of permitting and interconnection costs and obstacles,” Del Chiaro writes. “Whether California continues this historic growth depends largely on policy decisions to be made in 2014.”

Have a tip for CleanTechnica? Want to advertise? Want to suggest a guest for our CleanTech Talk podcast? Contact us here.

CleanTechnica Holiday Wish Book

Holiday Wish Book Cover

Click to download.

Our Latest EVObsession Video

I don't like paywalls. You don't like paywalls. Who likes paywalls? Here at CleanTechnica, we implemented a limited paywall for a while, but it always felt wrong — and it was always tough to decide what we should put behind there. In theory, your most exclusive and best content goes behind a paywall. But then fewer people read it!! So, we've decided to completely nix paywalls here at CleanTechnica. But...
Like other media companies, we need reader support! If you support us, please chip in a bit monthly to help our team write, edit, and publish 15 cleantech stories a day!
Thank you!

CleanTechnica uses affiliate links. See our policy here.

Guest Contributor

We publish a number of guest posts from experts in a large variety of fields. This is our contributor account for those special people, organizations, agencies, and companies.

Guest Contributor has 4314 posts and counting. See all posts by Guest Contributor

13 thoughts on “California Installed More Solar In 2013 Than In Last 30 Years Combined

  • “Whether California continues this historic growth depends largely on policy decisions to be made in 2014.”

    Alternative wording: “Solar is still dependent on subsidies.”

    “about 3 gigawatts of power and enough to replace four or five conventionally sized coal plants”

    The bulk of US coal capacity comes from coal plants 1 GW or more. One such plant produce more than twice as much energy as 3 GW of solar.

    • California state subsidies just about dried up in 2013. They’re pretty much gone now, but that didn’t stop growth in the CA market.

      If legislators were smart, they design a gradual phase out of the federal tax credit (along with the PTC) to give the market a clear signal in terms of what to expect in terms of continuing support. You know – like the California solar rebates did.

      Costs to install solar PV will continue to drop – I don’t see the rate of solar PV installs slowing down any time soon…

    • All energy is subsidized. Solar is less subsidized than nuclear.

      • Yep, and then there’s this story of Cinderella.

        • You’re deteriorating….

          • Perhaps, but I won’t ever drop to your level.

          • Only because you @jeppen:disqus can’t figure out to fall upwards.

          • Let’s agree to disagree about where Bob is.

    • Last I heard, we are only getting ~38% of our electricity from coal, here in the US. And this is dropping all the time.

      • It bounced up a bit in 2013 due to an increase in natural gas prices.

        But overall coal is slip sliding away….

  • I’d like to see an independent assessment of how much I should be paying to “maintain the grid” as a solar customer. Net metering isn’t free-riding, it’s a simple swap deal where the solar customer gives energy when it is in peak demand and the utility gives at night when the cost of electricity is the cheapest. What a great deal for the utility.

    As an electricity customer, if I turned off every appliance in my home for a few months, am I a freeloader? If I buy LED lights to save electricity, am I a freeloader?

    I do want to pay my fair share of the cost to the utility to maintain my 200A residential service, including the 40′ or so of buried cable that runs to the utility pole and directly supports me as well as my fair share of the high voltage lines that run to the nearest generating plant.

    Over the 40 yr life of that equipment, I figure that $10/mo should more than cover it.

Comments are closed.