Thursday, July 19, 2007

Solar Power Gaining Ground

While beginning to generate fairly substantial power in the state, cost is still an issue.

Power burst
Bay Area and state warm up to solar energy, survey says
David R. Baker, Chronicle Staff Writer
Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Spreading one rooftop at a time, solar panels in California are finally generating serious power.

The Bay Area alone now has enough panels to provide electricity to about 61,725 homes, according to a survey released Tuesday by a solar advocacy group. Statewide, the output of solar installations equals that of a mid-size power plant.

The survey, by NorCal Solar, a nonprofit group, shows that the environmentally friendly technology is becoming entrenched in both the Bay Area and the state.

"This report shows huge growth," said Liz Merry, NorCal Solar's program manager. "We're at a very exciting time right now. The demand is really strong."
But the survey also highlights solar's biggest drawback -- its cost.

The solar arrays scattered across California homes and offices cost about $2.8 billion to install and can generate a maximum of 336 megawatts of electricity, according to the survey. Traditional power plants burning natural gas can generate the same amount of energy at a fraction of the up-front price. And solar projects can take years to recoup their initial investments.

"This is not a cheap technology," said James Sweeney, an energy economist with Stanford University. "It is anything but."