Thanks to several outside good fortunes such as the eight-year extension of the uncapped Federal Investment Tax Credit, the crash in global solar panel prices, and the growth of third-party financing the California Solar Initiative (CSI) has been a tremendous success. It’s no secret that solar energy has enormous growth potential as individual homeowners and businesses are looking for less expensive way to operate.

Unlike other forms of renewable energy, solar is one of the few that can be implemented at a residential level without an exorbitant capital investment. However, some states (and countries) with similar programs to support the installation, financing, and implementation haven’t had the success of the CSI. That’s because the cost even with incentives was still somewhat prohibitive. Then why is the CSI “slowing” down, as the graph below (provided by Greentech Media) illustrates?

California Solar Initiative

In all actuality, the CSI isn’t slowing down, it’s just maturing as it should and going through changes thanks to its success. In it’s infancy, the CSI Program had a budget of $2.167 billion over 10 years. Its goal was to reach 1,940 MW of installed solar capacity by the end of 2016.

As it turns out, these goals were fairly modest and the program had surpassed these numbers midway through 2013 finishing at 2,746 MW of solar. Currently the program is expected to produce at least 1 GW of new solar power each year over the life of the original timeline. These future results, coupled with the early returns, will dwarf the original goal of 1,940 when 2016 rolls around.

The Future of CSI

Going forward the CSI has set a goal of producing 2.5 GW of new power each year by 2018 even as state incentives have been steadily declining. They are actually planning to achieve this number without any state incentives as early as 2018.

This can be accomplished thanks to the CSI’s early success, which grew an infrastructure where panels and photovoltaics are now being built for less money and installed more efficiently. Now that the state incentives are coming to an end, California is turning its attention to other issues. Components that are essential to the long term growth of the industry such as a net metering policy, storage procurement targets, distribution grid planning, and a bidding process for smaller solar plants are now at the forefront.

In the early stages of both domestic and foreign solar initiatives, a glut of news usually meant there were a glut of problems. This was no different for the CSI, but over time the project grew quieter and quieter. Very few of these programs achieved the success of the CSI and its reward is being able to come to an end quietly in 2016.

Although California wasn’t installing near the volume of solar that Germany and other leading countries, the state created a sustainable market without burdensome legacy costs. It now rivals those countries in terms of cumulative solar deployment. While the initial phase of the CSI will come to a close, its results stand as a shining example for other states to follow in order to meet our country’s growing energy demands.

This article was written by Brian Levesque, an electrical engineer and consultant to Ablaze Energy.  Brian enjoys researching topics assocaited with green energy and renewable electricity.  In his free time, Brian often contributes articles and content for distribution around the internet.

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