Bringing Solar to Scale

A Proposal to Enhance California's Energy, Environmental, and Economic Security

The following is an excerpt from Bringing Solar to Scale: A Proposal to Enhance California's Energy, Environmental, and Economic Security. To read the full report, please download the PDF file by clicking on the link to the left.

California faces an extraordinary opportunity to address its needs for energy security and economic stimulus while creating new jobs, building globally competitive markets, and protecting public health and the environment.

This paper presents a bold vision, along with an ambitious plan to capitalize upon a unique confluence of forces to make California the center of the global solar industry while making solar photovoltaics (PV) cost-competitive with other energy sources.

  • The Vision: A California-based, world-class solar industry, manufacturing and installing PV systems for businesses, institutions, and consumers at globally competitive prices. At the heart of the proposed plan is the Solar Underwriting Network (SUN), a financial mechanism capable of funding the purchase of hundreds of MW of solar PV at little or no cost to the state.
  • The Mission: To establish a plan and financial engine capable of 1) attracting and retaining solar PV manufacturers, installers, and allied businesses for the mass deployment of solar PV within the state; 2) enabling state agencies, local governments, businesses, and residents to purchase and install solar PV modules at cost-competitive rates; and 3) establishing California as a dominant, long-term player in the emerging solar PV industry.
  • The Outcome: Within seven years, to catalyze the manufacture and installation of 1,400 MW of "California grown" solar PV through a limited, one-time investment by the state, most or all of which would be repaid to the state at the end of the program. California and its citizens would enjoy all of the energy, security, job creation, economic development, and environmental benefits of becoming a world center for solar energy.

The solar photovoltaics market has been developing for decades. In recent years, PV has emerged as one of the fastest-growing energy technologies, but it is still not cost-competitive with fossil fuels or more mature renewable energy sources such as wind power. Solar PV's small base and limited infrastructure mean higher prices, which depresses demand, which keeps prices high.

Under today's business-as-usual scenario -- even considering the recent impressive efforts by California's state government and San Francisco's voter-backed initiative to significantly bolster the use of solar photovoltaics -- a solar future will remain elusive. Without a comprehensive plan and coordinated effort, solar is doomed to remain a small, niche technology financially inaccessible to the mainstream in California and elsewhere. Moreover, under current trends, solar's development will take place in Japan and Germany, making solar yet another American innovation being commercialized abroad. Even as solar develops overseas on its current growth trajectory, PV prices will remain high and installations small in the near- to mid-term.

The potential exists for California, working through state agencies, industry, and key stakeholders, to shepherd California into a leadership role -- making the state the center of a globally competitive solar industry by significantly ramping up production and installation and driving down prices. The potential exists for California to create a world-class, high-tech industry with the potential to meet many of California's energy needs -- and to export that technology to other states and around the world. Creating such a manufacturing base will generate thousands of jobs and help revitalize disadvantaged communities up and down the state. It also will help Californians build an energy portfolio that will be more resistant to terrorist attacks, marketplace disruptions, fuel shortages, and natural disasters -- and that will have less adverse impact on the environment and public health.

It will take just one aggressive, well-orchestrated, well-funded push. The plan that follows calls for an ambitious Solar Catalyst Plan, a multi-partner collaboration that harnesses the purchasing power of state government along with innovative private-sector and nonprofit partners. It also pulls together and leverages an impressive, but so far disparate, network of existing programs, interests, and financing mechanisms to build and support a sustained, orderly commitment to solar in California.

This plan is bold, but it is not unprecedented. In recent decades, California has put its financial and political muscle behind other technologies in order to help build the state's economy and to create new opportunities for its citizens. In doing so, it has helped birth entire new industries that have transformed the economic and social landscape both here and abroad.

Solar represents another such opportunity. It is poised to be competitive with conventional energy sources, providing a clean, distributed, and reliable source of energy for both the developed and developing world. The time is ripe for California to seize the moment. 

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