Solar Energy Affordability Drives Adoption in California; 1GW Installed

Fueled by falling solar prices, California’s Million Solar Roofs Initiative is on track to achieve its goal of three GWs of installed solar power capacity by 2016.

The Million Solar Roofs Initiative was designed to drive economies of scale in the solar industry, according to the report. Since the initiative began in 2007, the total installed cost of residential solar installations in California has fallen 25%, while the cost of commercial-scale systems has fallen more than 40%. The report notes that the cost declines were made possible in part by dramatic declines in the retail cost of solar panels, as well as many other significant improvements throughout the global solar value chain.

"Panels are part of a global market, and prices have universally declined as the global market has grown, as manufacturing capacity has increased and spread to new countries, and as improved technologies have been introduced," the report explains. "Thanks to the cost reductions driven by the global market and California’s pioneering policies, solar power is becoming cost-competitive with traditional forms of electricity generation."

In addition to clean electricity, the solar industry has generated thousands of new jobs in California and across the U.S. According to The Solar Foundation’s 2011 National Solar Jobs Census Report, there are more than 3,500 active solar firms in California, employing more than 25,000 people. Nationally, the solar industry represents 100,237 jobs, as of August 2011. Solar employers plan to increase their workforce by 24% next year, creating 24,000 net new jobs.

Protectionism, however, threatens U.S. and global solar industry development. In a recent solar industry report, Jefferies analyst Jesse Pichel explained that SolarWorld’s success would likely come at the expense of broader U.S. solar industry growth.

"The U.S. solar power industry, already suffering from a lack of financing, will experience higher panel prices and lower demand if countervailing duties are imposed as early as March 2012," the Jefferies report notes. "SolarWorld may see backlash as U.S. developers and installers are hurt by this scorched Earth approach."

The U.S. solar industry has expressed broad opposition to protectionism and its potential impacts on the burgeoning solar industry. In a survey conducted by PV Magazine, 76.4 percent of solar industry respondents opposed the SolarWorld petition, with only 20 percent expressing support.

The Coalition for Affordable Solar Energy (CASE), formed less than a week ago, already represents 25 leading U.S. solar companies that employ more than 9,000 professionals in the U.S. solar industry, or roughly 9% of the industry’s total workforce, and the coalition is quickly growing. The Coalition is committed to building a domestic solar industry, promoting innovation, and making solar an affordable option for all Americans.

"The solar industry needs more competition and political stability, not protectionism," said Jigar Shah, co-founder and Chairman of CASE, head of the Carbon War Room, and founder of SunEdison. "With further price declines, driven by intense competition, the U.S. solar industry will grow and create thousands of new jobs throughout the solar value chain. The solar industry’s rapid cost reduction curve, unprecedented in the history of energy technology, remains its primary source of credibility in the U.S. and globally. We must not put that at risk."