California Installed More Rooftop Solar in 2013 Than Previous 30 Years Combined
By Kiley Kroh
2013 was a banner year for clean energy, and the U.S. solar industry was no exception. California, the nation’s solar standout, more than doubled its rooftop solar installations last year from 1,000 megawatts (MW) to 2,000 MW.
To put this number in perspective, writes Bernadette Del Chiaro of the California Solar Energy Industries Association, it took California more than 30 years to build the first 1,000 MW of rooftop solar.
“When utility-scale solar projects are added in, California’s total solar power picture well-exceeds 4,000 MW today—nearly twice as much installed capacity as exists at California’s last remaining nuclear power plant, Diablo Canyon,” Del Chiaro said.
Photo courtesy of Shutterstock
And California isn’t alone in its rooftop solar surge. “About 200,000 U.S. homes and businesses added rooftop solar in the past two years alone—about 3 gigawatts of power and enough to replace four or five conventionally-sized coal plants,” Bloomberg reported.
As record numbers of homes and businesses decide to go solar, utility companies are growing increasingly uneasy about the threat it poses to their existing business model. If more customers install solar panels or adopt energy efficiency measures, a utility will sell fewer units of energy—especially during peak demand when energy costs are the highest. Therefore, utilities will increase their energy prices to cover costs such as grid maintenance and labor and as prices go up, more customers will look to energy efficiency and distributed energy resources to reduce their energy bills, perpetuating the cycle.
Net metering, the process that enables customers to be compensated for excess energy produced by solar panels on their homes and businesses, has become a particular point of contention between utilities and solar advocates. Utilities argue that customers who generate their own power receive too much credit while solar advocates counter that the incentives are critical to the growth of their industry.
According to Bloomberg, net metering fights have broken out in as many as twelve of the 43 states that currently have policies in place. In Arizona, regulators deferred their heated solar battle by agreeing to charge rooftop solar owners a modest monthly fee. California also compromised by extending the net metering program but opening the possibility of rate restructuring in the future. Colorado’s Xcel Energy has proposed cutting the compensation it provides for excess energy by about half, “because it says higher payouts result in an unfair subsidy to solar users.” And Hawaii, where customers pay the highest energy prices in the nation, the rush to install rooftop solar was so strong that the state’s largest utility has blocked new rooftop solar customers from connecting to the grid. The move puts “hundreds if not thousands of the state’s residents are being put in solar limbo by a virtual moratorium on new connections in many parts of the company’s service area,” Bloomberg reported.
Net metering has also attracted the attention of the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), a secretive group backed by corporations, fossil fuel interests and the Koch brothers. Last year, ALEC failed in each of its campaigns against clean energy but the organization shows no sign of slowing the attacks next year. Characterizing homeowners with their own solar panels as “freeriders on the system,” John Eick of ALEC’s energy, environment, and agriculture program told the Guardian net metering “is an issue we are going to be exploring.”
At its December meeting, ALEC members took up a draft resolution that calls on state legislators to “update net metering policies to require that everyone who uses the grid helps pay to maintain it and to keep it operating reliably at all times.”
GTM Research recently forecast that by the time the books were closed on 2013, more than 400,000 solar projects will be operating across the U.S. and installations will have grown 27 percent over 2012, with a 52 percent growth rate in the residential sector alone. But the report also cautioned that “challenges to net energy metering regulations present a looming threat to the market.”
In California, “rooftop solar continues to face battles on multiple fronts with regards to net metering, incentives for solar heating and cooling systems, the future of tax credits, and the reining in of permitting and interconnection costs and obstacles,” Del Chiaro writes.
“Whether California continues this historic growth depends largely on policy decisions to be made in 2014.”
Visit EcoWatch’s RENEWABLES page for more related news on this topic.
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It's going to be back-to-school time soon, but will children go into the classrooms?
The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) thinks so, but only as long as safety measures are in place.
Keeping Schools Safe<p>What will safer schools look like?</p><p>In a <a href="https://jamanetwork.com/journals/jama/fullarticle/2766822" target="_blank">JAMA article</a> published last month, <a href="https://www.jhsph.edu/faculty/directory/profile/1781/joshua-m-sharfstein" target="_blank">Dr. Joshua Sharfstein</a>, a pediatrician and professor at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, outlined suggestions — many of which are similar to AAP's.</p><p>Remote learning protocols must stay in place, especially as some schools stagger home and in-building learning. If another shutdown needs to occur, children will rely on distance learning completely, so it must be easy to switch to, he said.</p><p>He suggested giving parents a daily checklist to document their child's health. Kids should be screened quickly on arrival and be given hygiene supplies. Maintenance staff should use appropriate PPE and have regular cleaning schedules. A notification system should be in place if a case is identified, Sharfstein recommended.</p><p><a href="https://www.albany.edu/rockefeller/faculty/erika-martin" target="_blank">Erika Martin</a>, PhD, an associate professor of public administration and policy at University at Albany, said nutrition assistance and health services should be included. She called for tutoring programs with virtual options as well as technology access.</p>
Supporting Staff<p>Teachers and staff will be affected by safeguarding measures, noted <a href="https://directory.sph.umn.edu/bio/sph-a-z/rachel-widome" target="_blank">Rachel Widome</a>, PhD, an associate professor of epidemiology and community health at University of Minnesota.</p><p>"In order for all of the in-school precautions to work well, we'll be asking a lot of teachers and staff," Widome told Healthline. In addition to their usual workload, they'll now be asked to monitor mask-wearing, ensure children are keeping distance, and be aware of any symptoms.</p><p>Along with Sharfstein, Widome called for an increase in financial support. More employees will likely be required so teachers and staff members can keep up with the added demands.</p>
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