Category Archives: Solar Technology

How California Is Democratizing Solar For The 99%

California has become the first U.S. state to put more than 1,000 megawatts of solar panels on homes and businesses and the boom is on track to continue in 2012 despite upheaval in the solar market and declining incentives, according to a report released Monday by state regulators.

The California Public Utilities Commission estimates that the state is generating 1,255 megawatts of electricity from 122,516 rooftops. (At peak output, that’s the equivalent energy production of a big nuclear power plant.) In 2011 alone, the state’s rooftop solar capacity jumped 38% from the previous year while the number of rooftops boasting photovoltaic arrays grew by 29%.

But that milestone is less notable than the trend toward democratizing solar in the Golden State as the California Solar Initiative, or CSI, hits the midpoint of the program’s decade-long run. Launched in 2007, the initiative seeks to install 1,940 megawatts of rooftop solar by 2017 by offering incentives for customers of the state’s three big investor owned utilities – Pacific Gas & Electric, Southern California Edison and San Diego Gas & Electric. (The solar initiative is part of a larger $3.3 billion effort to bring 3,000 megawatts of distributed renewable energy online by 2017.)

In the solar initiative’s early years, Californians going solar tended to be affluent homeowners who could fork over the five-figure cost of a typical photovoltaic system. Now the big growth in the market is coming from lower and middle incomes residents.

According to the report, solar program applications in areas with a medium income of less than $50,000 has grown 364% since 2007 while applications from neighborhoods with median incomes between $50,000 and $100,000 spiked 445%.

Falling prices for solar systems have surely helped – the cost of solar arrays installed under the California program has declined 28% since 2007, according to the public utilities commission.

But the game changer has been a financial innovation – leases offered by installers such as SolarCity, Sungevity and SunRun that let homeowners avoid the steep upfront costs of a photovoltaic array and instead pay a monthly fee that often will be less than the cost of the electricity generated by the solar system. Those leases are financed by banks and other institutions that create funds for the solar installers and which in turn receive state and federal tax breaks and incentives.

“The upward trend in CSI participation [in] lower and middle income areas is likely due to a sharp increase in third party owned systems that have received CSI incentives,” the report states. “Third party ownership models, such as solar leases and power purchase agreements (PPAs), allow households who cannot afford to own a PV system to go solar.”

The change has been dramatic. In 2007, 93% of residential solar systems in California were purchased by homeowners; by 2011 nearly two-thirds of new solar arrays were leased.

Also spreading solar to the masses are state policies designed to provide bigger incentives for low-income residents and to put solar on apartment buildings and other multi-family dwellings so tenants can participate in the program. Through “virtual net metering,” for instance, tenants living in an apartment complex the sports a solar array can receive a credit on their utility bill for the electricity generated.

“The intent of [virtual net metering] is to help low income multifamily residents receive direct benefits of the building’s solar system, and is available to all tenants and meters in a defined affordable housing property,” according to the report.

Despite a rocky year for solar manufacturers and California’s struggling economy, the number of solar installations continues to soar. Installations jumped nearly 60% in 2011 from the previous year to a record 311 megawatts and just in the first quarter of this year 97 megawatts of rooftop solar have been installed.

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Training in Solar Technology Promises to Have a Bright Future

As the application of alternative energy beomes more popular, those with training in solar technology can look forward to a bright and promising career in this growing job market.

Various educational pathways are available to those who are interested in solar technology. They include short-term certificates and associate, bachelor’s and master’s degrees. Training in solar technology can also be paired with other degrees and experiences to expand career possibilities.

What is solar technology?

Solar technology typically refers to the application of photovoltaic technology, which uses a device to produce free electrons when exposed to light. The free electrons then create an electrical current.

Many training programs also include solar thermal training. A solar thermal system is one that captures solar energy and converts it into heat that can be used to power a furnace or other heating device.

Education

With a short-term certificate in solar technology, a student can find employment installing solar panels on homes and buildings. He or she may also do solar design, test solar products, research and develop solar products or service, maintain or install the products.

With an associate degree in solar technology, a student can find similar positions, but they will generally have more resonsibility and earn a higher wage.

Those working in the field with a short-term certificate or an associate degree typically earn about $12 to $20 per hour.

Core courses for an associate degree include technical mathematics, electrical circuits, green building systems and courses in solar thermal and solar voltaic systems. Additional courses include composition, problem solfing and electronic devices. Solar tevchnicians must also be well versed int he National Electric Code.

Those who wish to continue their education in solar technology may pursue a bachelor’s or master’s degree in solar technology, sustainability or anotehr business-related field. Solar technology also pairs well with degrees in electrical engineering.

Students who ear a bachelor’s degree may work as a sustainability officer for a municipality or as a solar operations engineer, designing new solar power systems.

Solar careers are also a unique opportunity for professionals who are transitioning fromn careers in more mature or declining areas of enerby technology. By building on their existing knowledge, they can expand their skill set by adding a short-term certificate or an associate degree in solar technology.

Men and women who currently work as electricians or for electric companies, may be interested in adding solar power training to their resume in rder to expand their job opportunities.

Careers related to solar power are springing up around the world. The highest demand is in warmer climates, such as the soutern and western parts of the United States, which receives direct sunlight year round.

In regions with fewer direct sunlight hours throughout the year, a student may be wise to combine solar technology training with another alternative energy subject.

In some areas of the country such as northeast Ohio, students can benefit from training in both solar technology and wind turbine technology. With a dual specialization, students may be able to find employment working on solar systems during the summer months and installing and repairing wind turbines during the colder, cloudier months of the year. ?For students interested in alternative energy or seasoned professionals in a related field, training in solar technology can lay the groundwork for a promising career.

Going Solar

People often call in and ask about solar housing and how to switch. I decided to do a little research, and found this wonderful article I want to share with you. It covers a wide range of information.

You keep hearing about using solar and going green, but what is it about solar technology that has millions of people turning to this alternative energy source.