Calif. Homeowners Warming Up to Solar Power

Rooftop solar panels
More than 95,000 California homes get power from the sun.

California leads the nation in the number of homes with solar panels installed, thanks in part to an assortment of state and federal rebates and incentives designed to cut reliance on fossil-fuel energy sources.

More than 95,000 homes in the state draw power from sunlight, according to the California Public Utilities Commission, and that number is expected to grow considerably as the cost of solar systems continues falling.

The Solar Energy Industries Association reported recently that the price for average residential solar systems was down 20 percent in the fourth quarter of 2012 from a year earlier.

Solar power systems were installed in more than 82,000 homes nationwide last year, and the association said the power capacity of all new solar systems — for homes, businesses, and public utilities — rose 76 percent to 3,300 megawatts. One-third of that new capacity was in California.

The California Solar Initiative, which operates a state-sponsored rebate program for homeowners, estimates the total cost of a residential photovoltaic solar power system at $34,800, with annual rates of return between 9 and 14 percent.

After factoring in rebates (both state and federal), reduced power bills, and income from excess energy sold to public utilities, the agency said a typical residential system would cost just over $19,000, with a payback period of 12 years.

Such a system can generate 81 percent of a home’s overall electrical needs and reduce carbon dioxide emissions by 5,459 pounds per year.

To qualify for the program, homeowners must buy electricity from one of California’s three investor-owned utilities — PG&E in the Bay Area — and have roof or ground space that gets unobstructed sunlight year-round from 11 a.m. to sunset.

The California Solar Initiative’s website explains rebate and installation guidelines in detail, with links to downloadable copies of the hefty California Solar Initiative Program Handbook and the CSI-Thermal Program Handbook.

(Photo courtesy of Mikecogh, via Flickr.)

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