California Solar Program Hits Another Milestone

The Germans would say tja, but by U.S. standards, it’s impressive.

The California Solar Initiative cracked 1,000 megawatts of installed solar before the close of 2012, putting the program more than halfway toward its goal of getting 1,940 MW of solar power on homes and businesses around the state by 2016, regulators said on Thursday [PDF].

image via Shutterstock

image via Shutterstock

The California Public Utilities Commission said the CSI, a 10-year, $2.4 billion program, had installed 1,066 MW through initiatives aimed at the general market and affordable housing developments. That’s 55 percent of the CSI goal – and the CPUC said that another 332 MW (17 percent of total goal) is in the pipeline.

One-thousand megawatts (or 1 gigawatt) is equivalent to the output of a standard single-unit nuclear power plant, although of course a nuclear power plant can and typically will generate power much more consistently than solar.

The CSI program uses a complicated formula to determine rebate levels, depending on system size, the type of customer and performance and installation factors. The subsidies automatically decline in “steps” based on the volume within each utility service territory in the program.

“In most parts of the state the rebates are up to 92 percent lower than they were at the start of the program in 2007, but participation in the program continues to increase year over year,” the CPUC said in its announcement.

As of the end of the third quarter of 2012, the U.S. had around 6,400 MW of installed solar capacity, according to the Solar Energy Industries Association. Solar installed through the CSI program represents the bulk of California’s capacity, but not all of it: according to the state, as of Jan. 9, there was 1,435 MW installed in California.

San Jose led the state with 44 MW installed through the CSI, which is open to customers of the state’s big three investor-owned utilities, and thus doesn’t cover city of Los Angeles residents served by the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power. San Diego, which has about 350,000 more residents than San Jose, was second at 36 MW.

Oh, and Germany? It installed  7,634 megawatts last year alone.

Pete Danko is a writer and editor based in Portland, Oregon. His work has appeared in Breaking Energy, National Geographic's Energy Blog, The New York Times, San Francisco Chronicle and elsewhere.

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