By Roy L Hales
California’s energy sector is hurtling towards the point of decision. Despite its reputation as a green leader, this is the #3 American state for crude oil production. In the past few years, solar energy production has grown to supply around 16% of the state’s electricity.1 A significant portion (5.7%) is supplied by rooftop solar. Though there is considerable push back from Big Oil, the California legislation’s goal of 50% renewable electricity by 2030 seems attainable. What are residential solar installation costs in America’s battleground state?
Residential Solar Installation Costs In America’s Battleground State
While the number of residential solar permits has declined since March 2016, a new study from Solar to the People shows project sizes are increasing. The average system installation in 2017 was 6.1 kW. Two years ago it was 5.5 kW.
“The overall price of a residential solar system (not to be confused with the price per watt), in the first six months of 2017 is $18,680. This includes the federal incentive (the federal solar investment tax credit), but ignores any of the regional incentives homeowners may be eligible for (regional cost incentives are no longer available in areas served by PG&E, SoCal Edison, or SDG&E).” – How Much do Solar Panels Cost in California?
Prices are lowest along much of the coast and in cities like San Diego and San Francisco. They are highest in more inland areas.
Competing For Space On The Grid
Much of the electricity produced by these panels is competing for space on the grid.
Gas fired plants still provide close to 50% of California’s electricity.
According to the California Energy Commission, renewables supplied 27.9%. As this number does not include smaller installations (like rooftop solar), the actual number is probably closer to 35% or 36%.
Proponents of the fossil fuel sector argue that gas fired plants are needed to stabilize the grid.
OIl and Gas sector lobbyists pumped $112,371,214 into their attempts to influence Californian politics, between January 1, 2009 and November 8, 2016.
The renewable sector’s access to the grid is being hindered. Utility scale wind and solar producers were asked to cut production 3% in the first quarter of 2017. Excess solar power is dumped into the Arizona market.
Calling For 100% Renewables
These appear to be transitional problems.
The real question is not if, but rather how fast California’s electricity market will change.
Senate Leader Kevin de Leon (D-Los Angeles) was the author of a bill (SB 100) that called for California’s energy to be 100% clean energy by 2045.
On the SB 100 page of the senate website it says, “The grid is constantly changing to accommodate the retirement of older generation resources that are past their useful life and investment in new technologies such as rooftop solar, energy storage, and devices that help us save more energy and shift it to time periods when more clean energy supplies are abundant.”
SB 100 failed to pass this year, but proponents intend to resume the discussion when the state legislature returns in January.
“Reducing carbon emissions and air pollution by transitioning away from fossil fuels is one of the most important actions our country and world must take to avoid the worst consequences of climate change. Even though California comprises only one percent of global emissions, taking all the carbon out of the electricity sector of the world’s sixth largest economy will set a global precedent that other states and countries can follow. We can’t ignore the science of climate change any longer,” wrote Laura Wisland, senior energy analyst at the Union of Concerned Scientists.
The Future Looks Sunny
This suggests that, regardless of fluctuations in the pace of development, the ultimate future of California’s residential sector looks sunny.
Ryan Willemsen, CEO / Founder of Solar To The People, says installation costs are continuing to drop.
“The average cost of solar on a per watt basis [in 2017], was $3.09, including federal incentives. This level represented a 3.3% drop from 2016, and a 8.3% drop from 2015 – so homeowners are paying less per unit of solar generating capacity each year.”
Top photo credit: rooftop installation courtesy LA Solar Group