California has a firm and well-deserved reputation as the heart of the U.S. solar revolution. The state is regularly rated as one of the friendliest environments for solar installers and its capacity has steadily outpaced the rest of the country. But a new report from advocacy group Environment California reports that notes that the state’s solar industry has now passed an important threshold. California now hosts more than 1 gigawatt of rooftop solar installations, an impressive feat given that the Solar Energy Industries Association reported the U.S. as a whole boasted only 2.7 gigawatts of solar capacity as of the second quarter of 2011.
The SEIA notes that the over the past four years, utility-scale solar installations have become an increasingly important segment of the overall solar market, reaching 28 percent in 2010, up from 0 percent as recently as 2006.
Yet that still leaves the vast majority of the solar market to the residential and so-called “non-residential” market, representing businesses, governments and non-profits that also rely largely on rooftop solar installations. In California last year, those latter two segments similarly dominated the market, with residential solar installations along accounting for nearly half of all added capacity. With nearly 260 megawatts of solar capacity added in the state as a whole, that went some way to bringing California up to the 1 gigawatts milestone.
The report from Environment California lists some very clear causes for the steady rise in California’s solar market. The Million Solar Roofs Initiative that began at the start of 2007 was designed with the intention of adding 3 gigawatts of solar capacity by 2016, and programs such as the California Solar Initiative were implemented to help reach this goal. With a 40 percent growth rate over the course of these programs, the solar industry is easily on target to meet the Million Solar Roofs goal and more, but the state could still reach 3 gigawatts with as little as 25 percent annual growth.
“This report really shows that investing in these solar programs works,” Michelle Kinman, a clean-energy advocate at Environment California and one of the report’s authors, told The San Francisco Chronicle. “It’s not only the fact that we’re on pace to achieve the 3,000 megawatts. There’s also the benefits of the creation of green jobs and the strengthening of the solar industry in the state, not to mention the benefits of clean energy and clean air.”
The news source notes that only Germany, Spain, Japan, Italy and the Czech Republic boast more rooftop solar installations.