In This Issue
A decision by the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) will increased the number of rooftop solar installations that will qualify for net energy metering (NEM) by clarifying the way the program is capped.
NEM allows customers to receive a bill credit for excess energy produced by their home solar system. However, the number of solar systems allowed to receive NEM credits is not unlimited. Without NEM, the market potential for rooftop solar would be severely restricted.
California law states that electric utilities are only obligated to offer NEM to customers until the amount of installed solar capacity equals five percent of the utility's "aggregated customer peak demand."
Prior to the current CPUC decision, electric utilities interpreted "aggregate customer peak demand" to mean the coincident system peak demand, or the highest demand from all customers at any one time. Under the new interpretation, it is estimated that this cap could be reached in Pacific Gas and Electric Company's territory as soon as 2013, at which time the utilities would not accept new NEM customers.
Today's decision clarifies that aggregate customer peak demand means the aggregation, or sum, of individual customers' peak demands. This clarification doubles the amount of solar systems that can benefit from NEM, providing the benefits of solar energy to many more customers.
The decision also opens a proceeding to examine the costs and benefits of NEM for nonparticipating customers and to consider possible revisions to the NEM program. The CPUC's Energy Division will conduct a study on the costs and benefits of NEM to inform that proceeding. The study will examine the costs and benefits by utility, customer class and income group.
CPUC President Michael R. Peevey said, "NEM is critical to the ongoing success of California's solar industry, which employs thousands of workers across the state. Today's decision ensures that the solar industry will continue to thrive for years to come, and we are fully committed to developing a long-term solution that secures the future of the industry in California."
The proposal voted on is available by clicking here.
San Diego Gas & Electric (SDG&E) recently rolled out a new integrated energy efficiency audit that replaces the one currently used by many applicants and homeowners to meet the CSI program requirement in the SDG&E territory. The new audit pulls electricity usage for each homeowner directly from the SDG&E database, eliminating the need for examining past energy bills or accessing the data on a separate website.
The process requires the homeowner to log in on SDG&E's website. After answering a number of questions regarding the appliances and energy use in the home and setting energy goals, a two-page energy efficiency report is generated. While this new approach offers opportunities in terms of the customization and usability of the audits for the homeowner, there is an interim period of adjusting to the new energy audit and incorporating it into established processes.
It is recommended that the energy audit be completed by the homeowner, as they are the most familiar with the specifics of their home and the way they use energy, however, in many cases the CSI applicant or installer assists the homeowner with the process. The new SDG&E energy efficiency audit makes it slightly more difficult for an outside party to assist with the process since it requires the homeowner to log on to their account, but it may still be helpful for the applicant or installer to complete the audit with the homeowner and to give their input on the value of energy efficiency measures.
There are also other free online energy audits available, as well as more intensive energy audits performed by a professional, that focus on whole home performance for homeowners who want to reduce their energy as much as possible before going solar.
The energy efficiency audit can serve as an integral part of reducing the size, and therefore the cost, of a solar system, making solar more affordable for the average homeowner.
In 2004 Narcisco Aracil won the lottery – for a home in Winters, Calif., that is. Quaified low-income residentes had been invited to enter a lottery to buy homes in The Cottages, an affordable housing development, and Aracil pulled a lucky ticket. Now he feels like he won the lottery again, with a solar electric system purchased through the Single-family Affordable Solar Homes (SASH) program. It's especially fortunate for the Aracil family because they live on a fixed income and must keep their home at a steady temperature for a disabled son.
The Aracils are one of 1,800 families who have been helped by the SASH program so far, with a goal of helping up to 7,000 families in California by 2016.
Stan Greschner, SASH program director at GRID Alternatives said, "The interest from lower income families to go solar and take control of their electricity bills continues to explode year after year. In 2009 when SASH began, we received 120 applications; in 2011, that number was 1140 applications, an order of magnitude larger."
With SASH applications booming, more low-income homeowners like the Aracils will continue to win in the solar lottery.
The typically quiet cul-de-sac of Karlie Ann Court in San Jacinto, Calif., in the Inland Empire was the site for GRID Alternatives' first Solarthon this year. On May 19, the neighborhood was flooded with community volunteers, corporate sponsors and job trainees who worked alongside eight low-income families to install solar electric systems on their homes.
GRID Alternatives' Solarthons are fundraising events that help close the funding gaps not covered by Single-family Affordable Solar Housing (SASH) rebates, which the homeowners qualified for and participated in. Between the morning stretch exercises, lunchtime grill out and all day fun, people worked together to get the "solar barn raising" done.
Solarthons bring together hundreds of people from every part of the community working side-by-side to install solar for deserving low-income families, in one day. Solar panel manufacturers Yingli and SunPower sponsor homes throughout the state, individuals raise money to participate and become "Solar Champions" and green job training organizations get on-the-roof experience.
The next Solarthon will be held in National City, Calif., in San Diego County on June 9. To learn more about Solarthon in your area and to sign up to participate, go to www.solarthon.org.
Call for Photos and Stories of CSI-Funded Solar Systems
Submit your CSI-funded solar system photos and stories here.
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