History of California Solar Power

The first commercial solar panel became available in 1955, but it could hardly be considered affordable. Seeing as these panels were priced at roughly $1,785 per watt, it’s difficult to believe how far we’ve come.

Today, you can install a solar panel in California for about $5.55 per watt, and that number is dropping each year. In fact, it was only back in 2007 that the price was still above $10 per watt.

By exploring the history of solar’s successes in California, we can better inform ourselves about the right policy decisions moving forward. With the right policies in place, solar will continue to become a more affordable option for families throughout California.

  • ARCO Solar becomes the first company to produce more than one megawatt of photovoltaic modules in a year.

    Average Price Per Watt = $27.00
  • The first large-scale thermal solar tower, Solar One, comes online. Consisting of 1818 mirrors that reflected the sun’s light to the top of a large tower, the power plant produced 10 MW of electricity. It was fully operational from 1982 to 1986.

  • The world’s largest solar thermal generator begins construction in the Mojave Desert. The LUZ Solar Energy Generating Stations provide 300 MW of solar thermal electricity and still operate today.

  • Pacific Gas & Electric installs the first grid-supported solar system in Kerman, CA, a 500 KW distributed power system.

  • Governor Pete Wilson signs Assembly Bill 1890, deregulating the state’s investor-owned utilities (IOUs) and creating incentives for solar systems under the Renewable Energy Program.

  • The Emerging Renewables Buydown Program is created, offering rebates for solar installations. From 1997 to 2006, the program helps install more than 150 MW of solar capacity.

    Average Price Per Watt = $12.30
  • Assembly Bill 995 and Senate Bill 1194 create the Reliance Electricity Service Investments Act (RESIA). Starting in 2002, IOUs must collect $135 million per year for 10 years to support the Renewable Energy Program.

  • Senate Bill 17xx creates a solar tax credit, letting customers earn a credit worth 15% of their solar installation costs.

  • Senate Bill 1078 establishes the Renewable Portfolio Standard (RPS), which requires utilities to procure 20% of their electricity from renewable sources by 2017.

  • The state’s solar tax credit is halved for the 2004 to 2005 tax years, eventually concluding in 2006. Solar panel price per watt remains stagnant.

  • Governor Schwarzenegger kicks off the Million Solar Roofs campaign, aiming to install 1,940 MW of new solar capacity by 2016.

  • The California Energy Commission creates Go Solar California. Go Solar includes the California Solar Initiative, which offers rebates to consumers who install solar panels.

  • The California Solar Initiative gains popularity, driving new solar installations and reducing costs rapidly.

    Average Price Per Watt = $10.36
  • The RPS expands, mandating that electric utilities obtain 33% of their electricity from renewable sources by 2020.

  • Governor Schwarzenegger signs Net Energy Metering into law, requiring utility companies to pay any home or business for the excess electricity they generate.

    Average Price Per Watt = $9.39
  • Net metering cap rises from 2.5% to 5% of aggregate customer peak demand. Utilities ask for clarification of the term “aggregate customer peak demand.”

  • Net metering policies and rebates lead to an explosion of solar growth. California becomes the first state to install more than 1 gigawatt of customer-generated solar energy.

    2011Average Price Per Watt = $7.34
  • Assembly Bill 327 protects net metering’s future in California, clarifying the definition of aggregate customer peak demand, and setting specific net metering limits for electric utilities. Solar continues rapid expansion across the state.

    2013Average Price Per Watt = $5.55

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