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Los Angeles Goes All In on Rooftop Solar Panels

Bill DiBenedetto | Wednesday July 10th, 2013 | 4 Comments

first-project_CleanLA SolarDon’t think it’s possible to provide clean and renewable energy that creates jobs and fuels private investment? Think again and then check out CLEAN LA Solar.

A program developed and supported by the Los Angeles Business Council, a coalition of environmental, business, health and research organizations, and the CLEAN LA Coalition, it’s the largest urban rooftop solar program in the nation. Its five-year goal is to power more than 34,000 homes while creating some 4,500 construction, installation, design engineering, maintenance and administrative jobs in Los Angeles.

CLEAN LA Solar allows businesses and commercial property-owners to generate energy for the city’s power grid through rooftop solar panels, and then sell the power to the Department of Water and Power (DWP). This policy is known as a feed-in-tariff (FiT), and is a great way to promote clean, solar energy.

California has a legislative requirement to generate 33 percent of its energy from renewable sources by 2020. Currently, most of L.A.’s renewable power is generated outside the L.A. basin and transmitted inefficiently to customers. By contrast, the CLEAN LA Solar program will provide incentives for clean-energy production within city limits. The result will be more efficient power delivery and a reduction in the city’s reliance on polluting, coal-fired power plants. The FiT also does not require new or upgraded transmission lines.

The goal is to generate 150 megawatts of solar electricity, or enough power for 30,000 homes. The business council hopes to attract investments totaling about $500 million from a group of companies that want to invest in the city’s push to go green. The program’s first project site is an 80-unit apartment building in North Hollywood that went online with 336 250-watt panels (for 84 kW of installed capacity) on June 26.

Solar Provider Group, the international solar firm behind the North Hollywood solar installation, moved its U.S. headquarters to a new office in downtown Los Angeles and is hiring employees. Over the next 18 months, SPG will hire up to 50 additional Los Angeles-based employees in sales, engineering, manufacturing and construction. The company plans to invest up to $50 million in the city by the end of 2016, over the course of the 100 MW program. SPG is also evaluating additional investments elsewhere in California and throughout the U.S.

While the CLEAN LA Solar program gets rolling, a rooftop solar provider is looking at a way to allow customers to be independent from utilities by generating their own power, according to an LA Times article.

Lyndon Rive, chief executive of San Mateo, Calif.-based SolarCity Corp., said in an interview with the paper that his rooftop solar company plans to roll out a system that would allow customers to generate power by solar panels during daylight hours and store the energy in battery packs at night.

These are not academic exercises or something on the drawing board that could happen on a large scale someday. It’s happening right now—a model for all urban areas to note.

[Image: Clean LA Solar’s first project: Oxnard Plaza Apartments via the Clean LA Solar website]


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  • DoRightThing

    This is good news for a start, but imposed targets are far too low.
    The target should be open-ended with as many GW as possible, and it should become self-propelling as panels, installations and red-tape overheads come down in price.
    American bureaucracy and overheads is still way behind that of Germany which has achieved grid parity even with half the sunlight as California!
    Hopefully this will improve quickly as wrinkles are ironed out.

    http://climatecrocks.com/2013/02/11/germanys-10-huge-lessons-about-solar-energy/

  • Jenny Sant’Anna

    Interesting program. I am interested to hear more about the financing options for businesses and commercial property owners that want to participate in Clean LA Solar, but the links provided no further information. Are leases available, loans, grants? How do interested property owners sign up for more information? I also thought the FiT policy was a state policy, do cities have to adopt FiTs as a policy as well? I guess my question is what makes Clean LA Solar different from just buying or leasing solar for a solar company such as SolarCity? What is the additional incentive? Thanks in advance for any further info or clarification.

  • Edward Cherlin

    Electricity is much more expensive in Los Angeles (20 cents per kilowatt-hour) than in the country as a whole (13 cents/kWh). The cost of rooftop solar over the life of the panels is substantially less than this, and is falling rapidly. What is missing is convenient financing for homeowners. (Owners of rental properties and businesses generally have plenty of assets to draw on or borrow against.) Every bank and credit union and every other source of credit should be urged to create and market loan plans to support direct solar purchases, leases, and contracts to buy power from one’s own roof. All can offer payments (monthly or per kWh) well below utility rates. Such deals are available now, but not known to most consumers. The Institute for Local Self-Reliance (http://www.ilsr.org/), a Minneapolis-based economic think tank, calculates that we are at grid parity or better for 10% of demand in five states today, including California, and will reach parity for at least 10% of demand in 49 states by 2022. The exception is Washington state, which has enormous hydropower installations, and therefore does not need solar to remain fully renewable. 
http://spectrum.ieee.org/green-tech/solar/residential-solar-power-heads-toward-grid-parity

  • vivek sinha

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