California hits renewable energy milestone: 1 gigawatt of solar power installed to date

By Dana Hull  |  San Jose Mercury News  |  Link to article

California has hit a major renewable energy milestone: 1 gigawatt — or 1,000 megawatts — of solar power has been installed on rooftops throughout the state, according to a report to be released Wednesday by Environment California, a statewide advocacy group.

One gigawatt is roughly the size of two coal-fired power plants and is enough energy to power 750,000 homes. Five countries have hit the 1 gigawatt installation mark to date: Germany, Spain, Japan, Italy and the Czech Republic. California has installed more solar power than France, China and Belgium.

The cumulative tally for California includes solar panels installed on existing homes and commercial buildings as well as new-home construction. It includes solar connected to the electric grid by large utilities like PG&E as well as solar within municipal utilities in cities like Palo Alto and Santa Clara.

The report credits the California Solar Initiative, the state’s aggressive program to encourage homeowners, businesses, local governments and nonprofit organizations to install solar panels on their roofs, with the milestone. About 600 megawatts has been installed through the California Solar Initiative.

“California can become the Saudi Arabia of the sun if it continues to get behind big, successful solar programs,” said Michelle Kinman of Environment California and co-author of “Building a Brighter Future: California’s Progress Toward a Million Solar Roofs.”

Despite the state’s weak economy, solar installations saw tremendous growth in 2010, thanks to falling prices and the popularity of no-money-down leases. (full article)