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Sunday, July 10, 2011

Livin' On A Prayer

While I was out of town at a conference, one of the big RE stories in California was the 2010 year end report of the California Solar Initiative. California added 194 MW of solar generating capacity in 2010 (vs. 132 MW the previous year).

As Dana Hull of the Merc explained it (with my commentary inserted inline)
In January 2007, California launched an unprecedented $3.3 billion effort to install 3,000 megawatts of new solar over the next decade and transform the market for solar energy by reducing the cost of solar-generating equipment.

The California Solar Initiative's road map calls for 1,750 new megawatts of solar power to be installed on residential and commercial roofs in the state by 2016. [Presumably the other 1.25 GW is utility scale. But does state really require that they be on rooftops rather than (say) a carport in a high school parking lot?]

Through the end of the first quarter of 2011, California had an estimated 924 megawatts of rooftop solar installed at nearly 95,000 sites -- putting it more than halfway toward meeting the solar initiative's goal.
Overall, the report left me puzzled as to the efficacy (or expected outcomes) of the CSI program. If in 4.25 years we’re about halfway to the residential/commercial goals — but incentives are almost entirely depleted — where will the remaining adoption come from?

This called to mind the refrain of the Bon Jovi hit that should be familiar to anyone who’s been to a teen dance in the past 25 years:
Whoa, we’re halfway there
Whoa-oh, livin’ on a prayer
Take my hand, we’ll make it I swear
Whoa-oh, livin’ on a prayer
I don’t be able to predict the future, but I can see two possible scenarios for how the remaining 5+ years of CSI will play out.

One is that the price of the equipment is close enough to grid parity that the additional 800 MW will be installed over the remaining years without resort to subsidies (despite calls for California to institute a feed-in-tariff).

The other possibility is that with subsidies gone, adoption will plummet. In that case, the people hoping for success without money behind it inhaled a few times too many when attending rock concerts.