Solar power systems taking off


LosangelesSan Luis Obispo, CA, USA — (METERING.COM) — July 19, 2006 – Net metering and other incentives are encouraging an increasing number of San Luis Obispo County wineries to install solar power systems.

The region has an average 300-plus days of sunshine per year and the systems are planned to power equipment ranging from production equipment and water pumps to air conditioning and computers.

Since its introduction in 1996 a fundamental driver of solar power systems has been the net meter law, which allows users connected to the grid to sell excess power to the utility Pacific Gas and Electric Co (PG&E). The power bill is tallied annually and if the user draws down more power than they put into the system, they pay the difference, whereas if they bank more credits than they used, their bill is zero.

Additional incentives that have been introduced include federal and state rebates and tax incentives for the technology.

While the environmental benefits of solar power are well-documented, the systems have been long viewed as prohibitively expensive to install and have remained a niche product. However these financial incentives are popularizing this alternative energy.

“The government is essentially picking up two-thirds of the tab” explains Rob Hichborn, director of sales at Premier Power Renewable Energy

However, the net metering program has an uncertain future, as the law states that when enough solar systems have been installed that the total capacity reaches 0.5 percent of the utility’s peak demand net metering no longer has to be provided to new installations. In PG&E’s case this threshold is 95 MW, which the utility expects to reach before the end of the year.

But there is support for expanding the programme and a proposed law, Million Solar Roofs Bill (Senate Bill 1), recommends raising the net metering cap to 2.5 percent. The bill, which has been endorsed by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, was approved by the assembly at the end of June and will return to the Senate in August.