Sunny California Flirts With Million Solar Homes Proposal

SACRAMENTO, California, August 6, 2004 (ENS) - As part of his environmental campaign promises last year, California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger said he would increase the state's use of solar power, with the goal of "50 percent of new homes equipped with solar photovoltaics by 2005."

The governor will fall short of that goal, but he is on the way if he adopts a new "Million Solar Homes" proposal made by the California Environmental Protection Agency on Monday.

governor

California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger campaigned on a solar power promise. (Photo courtesy Office of the Governor)
The draft plan was presented by Drew Bohan, under-secretary of the Cal-EPA, at a workshop held at the Department of Water Resources, the agency used to bail out California during the energy crisis of 2001.

California would add solar power to a million homes in the next 10 years, paid for by a surcharge on ratepayers' electricity bills of 25 to 30 cents each month.

By the time the surcharge expires in 10 years, it will have raised about $1 billion in funding for the solar initiative.

Another element in the plan is a lift of the current net metering cap to five percent of peak energy demand, allowing homeowners to sell excess electricity back to the grid.

And finally, builders would be required to construct five percent of homes including solar power in 2010, a figure that would reach 50 percent by 2020. This provision is meant to provide a backstop should incentives fail to work in the early years.

home

This solar electric system, integrated into an awning over a back porch California, generates electricity while shading the family's outdoor activities. (Photo courtesy AstroPower/NREL)
Environment California's clean energy advocate, Bernadette Del Chiaro, praised the proposal as a solid step forward toward achieving cleaner air and energy independence for California.

"This is so far ahead of any other state ... there's no comparison," Del Chiaro said.

According to administration sources, Schwarzenegger has yet to approve this plan, so Environment California gave the governor more incentive to undertake the program. The group placed an ad in Monday's edition of the "Los Angeles Times" addressed to the "Solarnator Governor" a reference to Schwarzenegger in his film role as the Terminator. "Keep your promise to build solar homes," the ad demands.

"This political ad shows how deeply Californians want the governor to come through on his promise to build solar homes," said Del Chiaro. "Ultimately we hope the governor will play the role of the action hero standing up to powerful special interests and putting his muscle into policies, such as the one unveiled today, that will truly bring us solar homes."

Environment California says that to cope with its energy crunch, builders should make solar power a standard feature, just like we do with double-paned windows and insulation.

The group is sponsoring a bill authored by State Senator Kevin Murray, a Los Angeles Democrat, that would require that solar photovoltaic (PV) systems be included as a standard feature on 15 percent of new homes built beginning January 1, 2006 increasing by 10 percent each year until 55 percent is reached in 2010.

The California Energy Commission already offers cash rebates to consumers who install solar panels. Payments from the Emerging Renewables Program are intended to reduce the net cost of solar generating equipment, stimulating sales.

The Million Solar Homes initiative would encourage the solar market, which has had its ups and downs in California. In 1998, BP Solar, one of the world's largest solar electric companies, built a manufacturing facility in Fairfield, where its thin film solar panels were made.

The flexible panels, approved by Cal-EPA, can be used as a substitute for glass in windows, skylights, and other architectural features, giving planners, designers and architects a new range of design and construction options, to the benefit of the environment.

But in November 2002, BP Solar decided to close the Fairfield solar plant and convert it into a warehousing and distribution plus sales and marketing facility.

On the exit from thin film manufacturing, Harry Shimp, BP Solar president and CEO, said, "We have worked very hard with the National Renewable Energy Laboratory and other partners on the research and development of thin film technology. However, while the technology continues to show promise, lack of material demand and present economics do not allow for continued investment."

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The Shell Solar rooftop system covers more than 31,000 square feet and is constructed in 13 rows containing 6144 thin film solar modules. (Photo courtesy Shell Solar)
Today, the most widely utilized solar panels in California are manufactured by Shell Solar in Camarillo, California. The Camarillo plant features the world’s largest rooftop thin film photovoltaic array, dedicated last September. The 245 kilowatt solar electric array is made of CIS thin film, a new way of making solar modules.

Copper, indium and selenium are applied in thin layers to glass with a vacuum process. This technique is used for coating window glass but is relatively new to the solar industry.

In his remarks at the rooftop dedication, Chairman of the California Energy Commission William Keese stressed the importance of the private sector and government partnering to encourage renewable energy technologies.

"Advances such as this help California move toward our goal of generating 20 per cent of our electricity from renewable sources by 2010," Keese said.

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