In Northern California’s East Bay, residential solar photovoltaic (PV) installations are continuing along at a steady clip, fueled by a number of factors, including solar rebates, leasing options, the general growth of the solar industry and programs dedicated to making solar power more affordable for everyone.
The East Bay’s solar success may reveal a glimpse of where solar is headed 2012. Let’s take a look.
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Headquartered in Oakland, California, the non-profit organization GRID Alternatives has shown how to combine green energy with economic growth. GRID helps low-income families receive home solar power systems, and through partnerships with local solar contractors, trains volunteers to install them.
The program is not only helping homeowners in need reduce their energy bills, but is providing honest green collar jobs. So far, for every GRID installation, contractors have hired at least one trainee. GRID increased their total number of installations from 128 in 2010 to 191 in 2011.
Over 25% of all solar jobs are located in California. Nationwide, the growth rate of solar jobs is 6.8%. The growth rate of the country overall is just 0.7%. The San Francisco solar company SunRun is one of the stars of California’s solar industry, doubling growth in 2009 and again in 2010.
The company that began offering solar leasing services in 2007 has gone on to grab the lion’s share of the market. SunRun’s success isn’t confined to California, either. Across the nation, about one-third of all residential solar systems were installed by SunRun.
Sungevity, another Bay Area solar company that operates out of Oakland, has also grown their business through leasing home solar systems. They not only expanded to five states in the northeast, but have partnered with a company in the Netherlands to provide solar services there, becoming the first solar company specializing in home solar installations to go international.
The Rising Popularity of Solar Leasing
The success of SunRun and Sungevity highlights how important the solar leasing sector has become to the industry. By allowing solar companies to install a solar panel array on their roofs, homeowners can immediately enjoy lower, more stable monthly electrical bills, without having to pay for the system themselves. Perhaps more significantly, leasing PV systems allows homeowners to participate in creating a healthier and more sustainable environment.
Thanks to the search giant Google, other solar providers have opportunities to offer leasing options as well. Earlier this year, Google invested $75 million into a fund specifically designed to let smaller companies, who many not have the resources to raise capital on their own, offer leasing services. Google anticipates that the fund, managed by the Clean Power Finance investment firm, will add residential solar systems to around 3,000 homes.
In a recent report on the solar industry by the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, researchers noted that investors are beginning to see greater returns, independent of incentive and rebate programs. Business magnate Warren Buffet recently made news when his Berkshire Hathaway subsidiary, MidAmerican, made a second sizable investment in solar. The deal will leave MidAmerican with a 49% share of a solar power plant in Arizona. Earlier this year, MidAmerican agreed to buy a California solar farm from First Solar.
A solar-jobs census report from the Solar Foundation, a non-profit organization in Washington, D.C., predicts that the number of solar industry jobs will triple in 2012. Quarterly reports from the industry organization Solar Energy Industries Association concur, predicting that savings from reduced costs in solar system components and opportunities presented with leasing options will continue to drive the industry forward in 2012. Huzzah!