Solar Electric Systems Boost California Power Grid

Almost half of the 50 MW of installed solar photovoltaic (PV) energy systems currently connected to California’s electricity grid comes from a state program that helps consumers produce their own power, according to the California Energy Commission.

Sacramento, California – November 5, 2003 [] California Energy Commissioner John Geesman said of this total, 24 MW have resulted from the Energy Commission’s Emerging Renewables Program. Started in 1998, the program provides cash rebates to California electricity ratepayers of investor owned utilities who install solar PV systems. The rebates have helped cut system costs by 50 percent. Of the 50 MW of PV installed to date, over 40 MW, or 80 percent of the total, has been installed since 2000. Another five to 10 MW from solar PV systems will be installed in the state within this year. As a result of the Emerging Renewables Program and similar rebate programs from investor-owned and municipal electric utilities, California ranks first in the nation for total grid connected PV capacity. “The growth of the solar PV market has been astronomical over these past few years,” Geesman said. “The declining costs for equipment and installation, coupled with generous rebate programs, have made solar PV an affordable and realistic choice for many businesses and families in California.” Individual homes or businesses with solar PV systems can take advantage of the state’s net metering legislation. If their use exceeds the power generated, these customers draw electricity from the power grid, like any other customer. This also eliminates the need for costly battery back-up systems. When generation exceeds demand, the meter literally runs backward, pumping electricity into the grid. In the evening, they can draw power from the grid with credit for what their system supplied during the day. Solar PV also provides power that coincides with the system peak demand, helping meet California’s energy needs during crucial daytime hours. Aside from PV, the Emerging Renewables Program also provides cash rebates to California individuals and businesses that install small wind turbines, solar thermal electric systems or renewable fuel cells on their property. Participants must be ratepayers of the Pacific Gas and Electric Company (PG&E), the Southern California Edison Company (SCE) or San Diego Gas and Electric (SDG&E). The state’s rebate system and a desire by consumers to help wean California from pollution-causing energy sources have spurred interest in solar systems. To date, 6,580 PV, wind, and fuel-cell systems, representing 25 MW of electric generation capacity, have been installed through the California Energy Commission’s rebate program since 1998. Rebate payments total nearly $102 million. Approximately $41 million in rebate funds are available for systems less than 30 kilowatts, not including $30 million in funds from the Commission’s discontinued customer credit account. In addition, the California Public Utilities Commission, through PG&E, SCE, SDG&E and the Southern California Gas Company (SCGC), administers the Self-Generation Incentive Program that offers similar rebates for the installation of clean, distributed generation technologies. Many of the local utilities, such as the Sacramento Municipal Utility District (SMUD) or the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power (LADWP), also offer their own solar rebate programs.
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