California reaches milestone—1 gigawatt of installed solar power

California reaches milestone—1 gigawatt of installed solar powerCalifornia’s Million Solar Roofs program hit an important benchmark earlier this month.

The state now has 1 gigawatt of installed rooftop solar. That’s enough to power 750,000 homes. It’s roughly equal to the amount of power generated by two large coal plants.

“Any way you look at it, it’s a big number,” said Michelle Kinman with Environment California.

Kinman is one of the authors of the report announcing the 1,000 megawatts of solar in sunny California.

The state has more rooftop solar than any other in the country and is only surpassed on an international scale by five nations.

The number was not achieved by accident. The state passed its Million Solar Roofs legislation in 2006 to fund distributed generation through the Public Utilities Commission. The goal is to get 3 gigawatts installed by 2016.

“We’re on pace to meet that goal,” Kinman said. “We’re a third of the way there.”

While more than a third of the time has passed, Kinman said there are a number of complimentary factors at play that will lead to faster growth in solar installations over the next four years.

These last few years have resulted in tremendous growth in California’s solar industry. More than 20 percent of the country’s solar companies are located in California, Kinman said. The 3,500 solar businesses in the state employ 25,000 people and there is building momentum behind the state’s solar movement.

Home and business owners installed more than 200 megawatts just this year.

The infrastructure is in place, the incentives are motivating, and people are becoming more aware of solar as a viable option.

There was some concern earlier in the year that the program would run out of funding for incentives to home and business owners who install rooftop solar, but the state legislature deposited fresh funds into the program during its last session that should keep the program solvent through 2016, Kinman said.

The state has the potential to exceed 80 gigawatts of rooftop solar, according to a Department of Energy statistic. That would be enough to cover more than a third of California’s energy consumption.