California Named Leader in Solar Energy

WASHINGTON — California is the nation’s leader in solar energy, according to a new report from the Washington, D.C.-based Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA).

On March 10, the association released its U.S. Solar Market Insight 2014 Year in Review, a study that sheds light on trends in the U.S. solar energy industry. The study showed that California is poised to become the first state in the nation to have 10 gigawatts (GW) of installed solar capacity, which is enough to power nearly 2.5 million homes.

"When it comes to creating clean energy jobs and protecting the environment, California is leading by example," said Rhone Resch, president and CEO of SEIA, in a statement. "To put the state’s remarkable progress in some context, today California has 10 times more installed solar capacity than the entire nation had in 2007. We congratulate Gov. Brown, his administration, legislative leaders and the people of California for being the ‘little engine that could’ and demonstrating to America the viability, as well as the reliability, of clean, affordable solar energy."

In 2014, California added 4,316 megawatts (MW) of solar electric capacity, bringing its total to 9,977 MW, just 23 MW short of breaking the 10 GW barrier. The report also noted that California had big increases last year across all solar sectors. Of the new capacity added, 615 MW were residential, 307 MW were commercial and 3,395 MW were utility scale. Together, these installations represented an $11.7 billion investment in the state.

Notable solar projects in California include Desert Sunlight in the Mojave Desert, which was recently completed by developer First Solar of Tempe, Ariz. This photovoltaic (PV) project has the capacity to generate 550 MW of electricity, which is enough to power more than 160,000 California homes.

At 250 MW, Mojave Solar in Hinkley, Calif., is also among the largest solar installations in California. Completed in 2014 by Abengoa Solar — a corporation from Seville, Spain — the concentrating solar power (CSP) project has enough electric capacity to power more than 61,000 homes.

Many large retailers in California also installed solar installations in 2014, including Walgreens, Johnson & Johnson, Walmart and IKEA. Campbell’s Soup installed one of the largest corporate PV systems in the state with 2,300 kilowatts (kW) of solar capacity at their location in Sacramento.

The residential solar energy market in California also continued to boom last year, with installed system prices dropping again — down a total of 49 percent since 2010. The upswing in residential installations is expected to continue in the foreseeable future, especially in light of a new report by the California Energy Commission, which shows that more than a quarter of all new homes being built in Southern California are being constructed with solar energy systems.

Currently, there are more than 2,000 solar companies at work throughout the value chain in California, employing an estimated 54,700 people. These companies provide a wide variety of solar products and services ranging from solar system installations to the manufacturing of components used in PV panels.

Solar installations in California are helping to offset more than 11.7 million metric tons of harmful carbon emissions, which is the equivalent of removing 2.5 million cars from state roads and highways.

"Today, the U.S. solar industry employs 174,000 Americans nationwide — more than tech giants Apple, Google, Facebook and Twitter combined — and pumps nearly $18 billion a year into our economy," Resch added. "This remarkable growth is due, in large part, to smart and effective public policies, such as the solar Investment Tax Credit (ITC), Net Energy Metering (NEM) and Renewable Portfolio Standards (RPS). By any measurement, these policies are paying huge dividends for both the economy and environment."

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