Cal­i­for­ni­ans take a shine to so­lar power

Kuwait Times - - HEALTH & SCIENCE -

Jac­quie Barn­brook had grown tired of the high elec­tric­ity bills and her gas-guz­zling lux­ury car when she fi­nally de­cided to take the plunge last year. The 52-year-old Los An­ge­les res­i­dent joined an ever-grow­ing num­ber of Cal­i­for­ni­ans who are switch­ing to so­lar power for their en­ergy needs in a bid to not only save money but to also do their part for the en­vi­ron­ment in a state set­ting the pace for the rest of the coun­try in that sec­tor.

“At this time of year, my power and wa­ter bills usu­ally were around $400 a month,” Barn­brook said. “Right now, it’s $150 a month.” As for her ve­hi­cle, Barn­brook said she ditched it in fa­vor of a hy­brid one that she now plugs in and charges at her house. “I was pre­vi­ously spend­ing $80 dol­lars on gas ev­ery three or four days and now I haven’t put gas in my new car since the begin­ning of March,” she noted. “That’s four months ago!”

Nearly 4.9 mil­lion homes are pow­ered by so­lar en­ergy in Cal­i­for­nia-the na­tion’s green trail­blazer and the most pop­u­lous state-and that num­ber is ex­pected to con­tinue to grow, ac­cord­ing to the So­lar En­ergy In­dus­tries As­so­ci­a­tion, a non-profit trade as­so­ci­a­tion. Even Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump, an avowed scep­tic on cli­mate change, is con­sid­er­ing putting so­lar pan­els on the wall he plans to build on the Mex­i­can bor­der.

Al­though so­lar in­stal­la­tions have slowed this year due, in part, to a record num­ber of peo­ple rush­ing to sign up in 2016 for fear of los­ing a tax in­cen­tive, the mar­ket is ex­pected to con­tinue to grow, es­pe­cially in places like Cal­i­for­nia which has a plethora of sunny days, ex­perts say. Driv­ing this ex­pan­sion is the plum­met­ing cost of so­lar pan­els-which were tra­di­tion­ally lim­ited to rel­a­tively af­flu­ent home­own­ers-and im­prov­ing tech­nol­ogy on bat­ter­ies to store en­ergy, they add. “Right now, we’re in throes of rapid change in the so­lar in­dus­try,” said Ra­jit Gadh, di­rec­tor of the UCLA Smart Grid En­ergy Re­search Cen­ter.

“As peo­ple process all the in­for­ma­tion out there and re­port their suc­cess sto­ries and it starts to be­come main­stream ... the mo­men­tum will grow.”He said apart from cost, another rea­son av­er­age con­sumers have gin­gerly adopted so­lar power in re­cent years was the dizzy­ing num­ber of reg­u­la­tory hoops they had to go through to get ap­proval from util­ity com­pa­nies and a lot of com­pli­cated in­for­ma­tion to process. More­over, as de­mand for the prod­uct has surged in the last decade, so have the num­ber of com­pa­nies-both se­ri­ous and shady-jostling for a piece of the pie.

“So­lar power is con­fus­ing and for a long time it re­ally didn’t make a lot of eco­nomic sense,” said Ryan Willem­sen, CEO and founder of the San Diego-based start-up So­lar to the Peo­ple. “In Cal­i­for­nia, so­lar is re­ally get­ting a snake oil rep­u­ta­tion be­cause of some of the un­scrupu­lous folks in­volved who are push­ing so­lar su­per hard,” he added. “In San Diego alone, for ex­am­ple, there are over 200 so­lar op­er­a­tions.” Ara Pet­rosyan, CEO and founder of LA So­lar Group, a con­sult­ing firm, said he be­lieves that once the dust set­tles and shady com­pa­nies in­evitably go out of business, con­sumers will be able to make more in­formed and af­ford­able choices and the sec­tor will take off like “a rocket ship.”

“In five years, so many rules and reg­u­la­tions have been added that you have to be a re­ally good ex­pert to stay in the business,” he said. He added that a clear sign of where the in­dus­try is go­ing is the num­ber of in­stal­la­tions which cost be­tween $15,000 and $20,000 for an av­er­age size house-his com­pany is han­dling. “When we started in 2012, we did about 10 in­stal­la­tions a month,” Pet­rosyan said. “To­day, we do about 120 a month ... and it will def­i­nitely keep in­creas­ing.”

Such pro­jec­tions are good news for a state that has man­dated that 50 per­cent of its elec­tric­ity come from re­new­able en­ergy sources, in­clud­ing so­lar, by 2030. So­lar power is also grow­ing fast in other states, in­clud­ing New York, which look to Cal­i­for­nia as an ex­am­ple. “The over­all in­dus­try trend is that the cost of so­lar pan­els and other com­po­nents is go­ing down,” said Willem­sen. “And more and more stan­dard folks are hear­ing it’s a good idea and once one per­son in the neigh­bor­hood goes so­lar, more and more fol­low.”—AFP

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