Building a Brighter Future: California’s Progress Toward a Million Solar Roofs

Released by: Environment California Research & Policy Center

Executive Summary

California’s Million Solar Roofs Initiative is succeeding. Thanks in large part to this visionary program, launched in January 2007, solar panels are multiplying on rooftops across the state. As of mid-October 2011, California’s solar industry is on the cusp of celebrating a major milestone – the installation of more than 1,000 megawatts (MW) of rooftop solar photovoltaic capacity in total.*

The Million Solar Roofs Initiative has helped California install more solar electric generation capacity than all but five nations in the world. At the same time, the program is building a strong and healthy solar industry in the state, creating local jobs, and helping to drive down the price of solar energy.

California has only begun to scratch the surface of the massive potential of solar energy. State leaders should ensure that the Million Solar Roofs Initiative continues to succeed during its final five years, and lay the groundwork for further expansion of solar energy in the future.

Five years in, the Million Solar Roofs Initiative is one-quarter of the way toward its goal of installing 3,000 MW of distributed solar energy systems by the end of 2016 – putting the program on a pace to meet the overall goal on schedule.

  • Since the first solar panels under the Million Solar Roofs Initiative were connected to the grid in 2007, California has installed nearly 800 MW of solar photovoltaic power.
  • Counting activity from earlier solar programs, as of mid-October 2011, California is on the cusp of the milestone of installing more than 1,000 MW of rooftop solar power – a level of solar energy penetration achieved by only five nations in the world.
  • California’s solar market has been expanding exponentially by about 40 percent per year. If the market continues growing at a rate of 25 percent per year, the state will achieve the 3,000 MW goal by the end of 2016.

The Million Solar Roofs Initiative is helping to reduce the cost of solar energy in California.

  • Since the program began, the total installed cost of residential solar energy systems in California has fallen 25 percent – and the cost of commercial-scale systems more than 40 percent. In 2007, residential systems typically cost $10 per Watt, while costs in 2011 average $7.60 per Watt (through August, in 2011 dollars).
  • Given available incentives, many customers are already seeing immediate cost savings by going solar – especially customers with larger electricity use in parts of the state with tiered pricing or time-of-use electricity rates.
  • If progress continues at the same rate, residential solar energy should reach break-even costs statewide – even without upfront rebates – within the next five years.

The Million Solar Roofs Initiative is making California’s solar industry stronger.

  • California is home to about 20 percent of all solar power companies in the United States. More than 3,500 firms are active in California’s solar industry. These firms employ more than 25,000 people.
  • The industry has roughly doubled in size since 2007, and is a bright spot in our overall economy.

Despite its rapid progress, California has only barely tapped into the massive potential for solar power.

  • California has tremendous untapped solar energy potential. The National Renewable Energy Laboratory estimates that the state could host more than 80,000 MW of rooftop solar capacity – which could generate more than a third as much electricity as California uses in a year.
  • Other countries are demonstrating that it is possible to rapidly expand the solar market and achieve ambitious goals. Germany, for example, has already reached 17,000 MWdc of solar capacity – nearly 17 times California’s current total – through consistent and strong public policy support.

California should continue its efforts to build the strength of its solar market and solar industry. Key steps include:

  • Ensure that the Million Solar Roofs Initiative reaches its goal by the end of 2016.
  • Encourage the state’s municipal utilities, especially the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power, to meet or exceed their portion of the Million Solar Roofs goal.
  • Increase the use of solar energy systems in new construction by requiring all new homes to include solar power or other on-site renewable electricity generation by no later than 2020, and all new non-residential buildings by no later than 2030, through a net-zero energy building code requirement.
  • Adopt a strong feed-in-tariff policy to encourage solar power installation on warehouses, parking lots and other sites with low on-site energy demands but high levels of sunshine.
  • Maintain or enhance the incentive value of net metering and lift the cap on its use to allow all California ratepayers to benefit from going solar.
  • Remove barriers to installing solar energy systems at the local and state levels by streamlining interconnection and permitting.
  • Finally, California should continue to set ambitious clean energy goals – such as Governor Jerry Brown’s goal of installing 12,000 MW of distributed electricity generation in California by 2020 – and design innovative policies to achieve them.

*All solar capacity figures in this report are presented in terms of alternating current Watts, measured under California Energy Commission PTC test conditions, unless otherwise noted.