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Various Authors 6:38 p.m., Sept. 24
The market for individual solar systems in California is booming, according to a new report from the California Public Utilities Commission.
In 2007, California launched a $3.3 billion program aiming to install 3,000 megawatts of solar power in the state within a decade. To this end, the Commission created the California Solar Initiative, with a $2.2 billion budget and a goal of 1,940 megawatt capacity by the end of 2016, with the remaining funding and power generation entrusted to utilities.
So far, the Initiative is more than halfway to meeting its goal, with 122,516 rooftop solar arrays generating 1,255 megawatts of energy, eclipsing the total generating capacity of one of the two nuclear reactors at the indefinitely idled San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station.
One aim of the Commission was to reduce the cost of solar, making the technology more accessible to a wider audience. Due to better technology, increased demand, and more efficient manufacturing, the cost of a typical residential solar array has fallen 28 percent since 2007, the Commission says. New solar projects in areas with a median income of $50,000 or less, meanwhile, have spiked 364 percent, and in areas with median incomes of $50,000-$100,000 have seen a 445 percent increase in demand.
Part of the boom is due to companies offering leased systems, where installation costs are covered by the panel provider, who then sells power to the consumer at a rate which is often below that charged by local utilities. Indeed, in 2007 a full 93 percent of new solar systems were purchased by homeowners, while about two-thirds are now leased instead.
Demand for solar continues to grow – last year new system installations were up 29 percent, accounting for a 38 percent growth in total generating capacity. And figures through the first three months of 2012 are up 60 percent over last year’s pace, with the opening quarter of 2012 seeing the addition of 97 megawatts of power.
If the figures for January through March hold up, it would take a little more than five years to completely replace the generating capacity of San Onofre.