The State of California has some rather bold goals when it comes to solar energy. (But let's face it...California has a lot of sun.) The state, which estimates that by the end of 2011 there were approximately 100,000 installations and 1GW of solar PV in California, is looking to expand solar much, much further. It has two goals: one million solar roofs by 2018 and 12 GW of distributed generation by 2020.
According to an article in Forbes today, critics and supporters alike are wondering if California cities can scale their clean energy infrastructure quite this quickly in the next six to eight years while at the same time attracting investments and generating local jobs, writes contributor Tony Seba.
It's a very good question. Seba recommends examining the efforts of Sonoma County, which has some of the most widespread solar installations in the state, most of them achieved within the last three years. The city of Sonoma had 507 solar watts per resident and 4.5 solar installation per 100 residents at the end of 2011, according to Environment California’s “California Solar Cities 2012.” If these same stats were to be applied to all of California's 38 million residents, the state would have 19 GW and 1.7 million installations of solar.
In other words, says Seba, it would have achieved its goal...and then some. Even more notably, Sonoma managed this solar installation in a short period and during a nationwide economic recession. How? By using a PACE (Property Assessed Clean Energy (News - Alert)) program called the “Sonoma County Energy Independence Program,” established in 2009. The SCEIP program was put in place to encourage homeowners and business owners to make new and retrofitted energy improvement to their properties.
PACE programs are offered by municipal governments to encourage energy retrofits. Local governments offer a bond to private investors to raise capital. They then loan this money to consumers and businesses to put towards energy efficient property changes. The loans are repaid over the assigned term (typically 15 or 20 years) via an annual assessment on the individual's or business' property tax bill. This allows homeowners and companies to cover the often high up-front costs of energy improvements such as solar panels or small wind turbines.
PACE programs are becoming more popular in California, and are being widely used to make significant clean energy changes in many areas of the state. The programs cover not only solar installations and wind but other energy-efficient changes, including thermal windows and door, improvements in HVAC systems, and sealing and insulation projects.
Edited by Jennifer Russell