California doubles solar in 2008

solarThe good news in 2008 regarding US wind was matched by its renewable sister industry, solar. California is the leading state in solar deployment and it doubled capacity last year. While numbers have not yet emerged from other states, it looks to be a banner year for the industry nationwide.If the rest of the country grows as quickly as California, national solar growth would hit ~440 MW. While this is only a twentieth of wind’s growth, such an increase would get solar close to the scale it needs to contribute to significant climate mitigation. Five more years of such growth would put solar on the same level as wind and erase the need for new fossil fuel-fired power plants.

But maintaining growth in 2009 will be a challenge. Financing of projects has frozen in the credit crisis and halted (for now) the plans of many solar developers such as SET’s business partner, Carolina Solar Energy. The Stimulus package that passed the House carried significant support for solar, but we will have to see if it makes it through the Senate this week before that support is guaranteed.

Solar panel prices for February should be reported within a few days, and I will give that update as soon as they emerge. Hopefully, the price of solar can fall enough to get close to grid parity once oil and natural gas prices return to economic growth levels beyond $70 per barrel and $7 per MMBtu by 2010.

Bottom line: California’s doubling of solar capacity in 2008 ensures that the US solar industry is quickly growing toward a significant scale of GWs rather than hundreds of MWs. With the right government policy, the US can surpass Japan and Germany as the leader in solar by 2012 just like we passed Germany in wind power in 2008. Without such growth, our domestic industry could fall behind these competitors and others.

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