And How Should We Proceed? The Future of Solar in California

California has been pushing its solar industry. It’s not a secret. In pushing the solar industry came a flurry of jobs. Based on the “Solar Industry & Occupations: Distributed and Utility Scale Generation” report, California is currently home to 3,500 solar firms employing 25,000 people. Based on these trends, the state could add as many as 18,000 jobs in the solar industry by 2015.

This increase in jobs is of course, welcomed, however at present there may not be enough qualified people to fill them. Although California’s community colleges have done a good job of not only training, but fulfilling the market demand for solar installers, the future of solar in California will require different skill sets, many of which are not being taught in college programs.

The solar curriculum in California’s community colleges needs to be expanded to cover the basics of energy production, power plant management, and solar technologies the report recommends. This will be especially prudent in certain areas of California where the  solar industry is becoming more popular, but the market for installers is saturated. Class options need to be diversified in order to address other skills needed in the solar industry. By incorporating skill sets relevant to other aspects of solar aside from installation (manufacturing and distribution for instance), colleges might be able to better prepare graduates for their impending job searches.

There are 15,000 students enrolled in 300 different green job training programs. There will come a point in the near future where policy makers will need to catch up to educational institutes that are driving green jobs. If California’s community colleges succeed in diversifying classes in green jobs, will California’s green economy evolved enough for these graduates to find work in their fields? California won’t be able to realize the full economic potential of green jobs if this doesn’t equalize. If we train people in green jobs but there is no market for them it will all be for naught.

SDG&E Slapping Solar Owners With Monthly Fees

Last month, San Diego Gas and Electric (SDG&E) proposed a new rate policy that could have potentially harmful implications for the solar industry.

SDG&E requested a new plan that would impose a “network use charge” for net-metered PV customers said to, “divide operational costs among solar-owning and non-solar-owning customers more equitably” according to an article published in Solar Industry.

Installers in the San Diego area are concerned that the network charge will make owning PV systems impractical and dramatically harm the business. Those opposing the proposal also fear this could set a dangerous precedent for other utilities–in California as well as the rest of the country.

I definitely agree that if this new network use charge is introduced it could negatively effect solar installers and have serious implications for the solar industry in general.

Utility companies have initial costs that they need to recover, and with more customers going solar and not demanding as much electricity from said utility, they are losing money. As the article points out, if San Diego succeeds in implementing this fee to make up for utility loses when customers go solar, other California cities may follow suit.

PV customers who anticipated having a low to no utility bill could find themselves paying $35 dollars per month in fees and potentially destroying the system economy. Additionally, new PV owners may be deterred from investing in solar with the potential of monthly fees looming in the near years. The article does note that those who purchase PV systems because of environmental motives (verses financial) will most likely continue to buy regardless of the network use charge.

Unfortunately, not everyone investing in solar is concerned with the environment. so it is extremely important to keep both the environmental and financial market open for potential solar buyers to keep the demand for solar infrastructure up.

If the network use charge is implemented, it creates a huge problem for marketing solar in that it makes projecting charges extremely difficult. And as Kay Stefferud (principal consultant at EnerNex) says, “Any uncertainty hurts [solar installers] ability to sell systems.”