There is a lot we can learn from the success of GO Solar California, a campaign with a budget of $3.6 billion aims at installing 3 GW of solar system capacity during 2016
California, a south-west state of USA is known not only for its Silicon Valley and vast resources but also for its sunshine. It also has world's largest power plants in gas, as well as renewables. Renewables already account for one-fourth of its energy supply, and are mandated to reach one-third by 2020 and one-half by 2030 thereby displacing fossil fuel as the main energy resource. Over the last few years, its solar energy has made rapid strides. It now leads the nation with 5,37,637 solar projects that generate 4.2 GW of electricity. It has taken over from the wind as the biggest renewable energy system.
Go Solar California
It's Go Solar California campaign with a budget of $3.6 billion aims at installing 3 GW of solar system capacity during 2016 and 585 million therms of hot water systems by the end of 2017. Its two main components are: California Solar Initiative (CSI) and New Solar Home Partnership (NSHP). CSI provides incentives for installing solar systems on buildings and areas other than homes, based on the size, angle, location and actual performance. Installation bigger than 30 kW may get Expected Performance-Based Buy-Down (EPBB) payments on a $ per watt basis. A smaller system less than 30kW may get Performance Based Incentive (PBI) based on kWh generated.
NSHP is for home builders whether single or multifamily units who meet or exceed the energy efficiency standards, to install solar systems. Interestingly NSHP supports Zero Net Energy concept under which a building -whether residential, commercial, industrial or public, generate at least as much energy as it consumes. The goal is to have all new buildings as ZNE by 2020. NSHP provides additional incentives for special features like the west-facing buildings that generate electricity during peak hours.
Although prices of solar arrays have been declining, a total cost of the systems continues to be high due to high soft or installation costs. Thus, for example, a 3 kW system may cost $19 k and may have a payback period of 12 years. Few individual small home builders will be interested in investing that kind of money on their own to take advantage of the incentives. It is, therefore, incumbent to have a decent financing mechanism in place.
PACE or Property Assessed Clean Energy is the option under which the city governments may provide long term –20-year loan for the purpose. NSHP has a budget of $400 million and a goal to generate 360 MWs by 2021. The federal government supports the program through tax incentives. There is a lot that we can learn from the success of GO Solar California. Energy efficiency of building and ZNE, for instance, are the concepts that we must also take very seriously. Our builders lure the buyer with offers of energy-guzzling air conditioning. Instead, they should be encouraged to vigorously sell the idea of low or no electricity bills.
We must also develop systems specific to our needs. Solar water heaters, for instance, have little use in our homes for half the year. We need coolers, refrigerators and air conditioners so much more. More R&D effort is needed in such areas. While making solar systems affordable, we may also develop suitable financing systems so that individual homeowners are not required to be burdened with the total cost. City governments and corporations must explore the possibilities of extending support through PACE-like financing systems under which the loan instalments are recovered with property tax or with the electricity bill.
Once the program gets going we may replace the old meters with NEMs wherever feasible. But that will take time as it will take time for us to put policies and programs like Go Solar Delhi or Go Solar MP in place. GOI has set a very ambitious target for solar energy. We as a nation must rise to the occasion and make it a success.
(The writer is a columnist and writes on developmental issues)