State solar assessment shows record growth in 2011

solarpanels2solarpanels2Last year, 311 megawatts of solar power were installed by energy customers, according to a new report released by the California Public Utilities Commission. With that, California became the first state in the U.S. to surpass the one gigawatt mark for installed customer generated generated solar capacity at 1,062 total megawatts, the report said.

The newly installed capacity marks record growth compared to previous years: 196 megawatts in 2010, 135 megawatts in 2009, 154 megawatts in 2008, 96 megawatts in 2007, 59 megawatts in 2006 and 39 megawatts in 2005.

Through the end of the first quarter of 2012, California had an estimated 1,255 megawatts of installed solar capacity at 122,516 sites, a 38 percent increase in solar capacity and a 29 percent increase in the number of properties going solar from the same time last year.

The report highlights other trends since the state launched the California Solar Initiative incentive program in 2007.

Since then, there has been a 28 percent decrease in the cost of solar systems leading to a 364 percent increase in the the number of CSI projects in low income markets and a 445 percent increase for middle income markets.

Applications to the CSI program have shot up 270 percent to 21,948 last year.

With a $2.2 billion budget for solar energy projects, the program has a goal of installing 1,940 megawatts of additional solar capacity by the end of 2016.

The report also noted changes in the state's Net Energy Metering program, which allows electricity users to be credited for temporary amounts of excess solar energy they feed into the grid.

On 67 megawatts, or 6 percent of solar capacity in the state, is not signed up to receive tariffs under net energy metering.

The net energy metering payout cap is limited to five percent of a utility's "aggregate customer peak demand."

In May, the California Public Utilities Commission redefined the term to count as the sum of individual customers' peak demand, allowing the number of megawatts installed under the cap to increase.