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Home arrow Blog arrow Aug 23 The San Diego Union-Tribune: "Sunny prospects"

Aug 23 The San Diego Union-Tribune: "Sunny prospects" PDF Print E-mail
Written by John Sarter   
Wednesday, 23 August 2006
Aug. 23


The San Diego Union-Tribune: "Sunny prospects"


Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger wants solar panels to sprout on 1 million California rooftops over the next decade, displacing the energy equivalent of six large power plants or taking 1 million cars off the road. It is a laudable goal, but it may be harder than it looks ...


Although the fuel — sunshine — is free, clean and limitless, solar power requires high initial costs, deterring all but die-hards from investing in rooftop power production.


Making matters worse, California's subsidy has receded to 30 percent. At the same time, soaring component costs have pushed prices for solar panels about 50 percent higher, from $6 a watt to about $9 a watt today ...


Solar's dicey economics won't improve automatically under the "million solar roofs plan" Schwarzenegger signed into law this week. The governor hopes that 10 years and $3.2 billion in subsidies (collected from consumers' utility bills) will foster breakthroughs in technology, complete with plummeting prices.


We like his optimism. Yet we're more impressed with the sunny outlook these days from Silicon Valley, where venture capitalists are pouring hundreds of millions into solar startups and similar "clean tech." One company is making thin sheets of flexible solar material using the technology that prints this newspaper; another inventor uses lenses to focus sunshine for higher energy yields; others build factories that make panels with cheaper materials.


Investors say subsidies will help, but they are mostly betting that high prices for fossil fuels and public concern about global warming will jump-start an enduring market for clean technologies.


In the meantime, owners of homes and businesses face a familiar dilemma: Wait for low prices or act now? Perhaps some details would help:


Under the governor's plan, subsidies will taper off quickly as people install more systems. Regulators plan to start subsidies in January at $2.50 a watt for residential and commercial customers. Tax credits and accelerated depreciation make this a much better deal for businesses.


But homeowners and small businesses get a sweetener: They can sell solar power at full retail rates to the utility until the meter reads zero. Big commercial installations receive lower wholesale rates. More information and lists of local installers are at consumerenergycenter.org or sdreo.org.

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