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July 8, 2013
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Changes for Nevada County's California Solar and Electric


Nevada City has the highest number of solar installations per capita of any city in the U.S.

According to EnvironmentCalifornia.org, nearly one in every five households in Nevada City hosts a solar power system.

“It’s exciting for us because we installed most of those systems, so we can tout that we are the number one solar company in the number one solar city in the U.S.,” said Lars Ortegren, California Solar and Electric director of operations.

California Solar and Electric is the leading installation company in Nevada County and will develop a sales division after its departure from a partnership with local company Plan It Solar.

The company has plans with local organizations in the works, as well as a move into a downtown Grass Valley location, which still needs to be finalized, as part of the expansion.

“We wanted to have more exposure and our business is growing because we’ve moved into sales, as well as installs, and we need more space that offers a showroom and warehouse,” Ortegren said. “We really wanted to create something new and exciting that goes with our values.”

California Solar and Electric is a Nevada County-based company that began in 2000 and has, like many solar companies, seen the leaps and bounds the solar movement has gained in the past decade.

According to data from CaliforniaSolarStatistics.org and Brandon Davis, sales manager of California Solar and Electric, there were 49 solar systems with a total of 261 kilowatts installed in Nevada County in 2007. The number has more than doubled every year until 2013, with 150 installations in 2012 and 4,343 total kilowatts in 2012.

California Solar and Electric was responsible for 45 percent of the installations, indicating the prevalence of solar technology in the area, which has a lot of history, Davis said.

German-based company SMA Solar Technology, the leading producer in voltaic energy inverters and monitoring systems, opened its first U.S. headquarters in Grass Valley, which have now moved to Rocklin, Davis said.

“A lot of companies started out here and a couple successful startups. It’s a unique area.”

Before solar power was so mainstream, the government stimulated the market with rebates in order to subsidize the industry until market prices stabilized.

“We were buying panels for over $7 a watt and now we’re selling panels for a dollar a watt,” Ortegren said.

“Even though there is not a state rebate, the panels are at a historic low at the cheapest it’s ever been.”

Part of the increase in solar energy usage can be attributed to congressional movement toward renewable energy and rebate systems.

Congress passed the Public Utility Regulatory Policy Act in 1978, which established the right for independent power producers to connect with the local utility distribution system, and the Energy Tax Act in 1978 encouraged homeowners to invest in energy conservation and solar and wind technologies through tax credits.

The California Solar Initiative was launched in January 2007 and is budgeted to run through 2016. The initiative serves as a rebate program for California consumers who are customers of Pacific Gas & Electric, Southern California Edison and San Diego Gas and Electric.

According to a November 2012 National Solar Jobs Census report by The Solar Foundation, the U.S. solar industry currently employs 119,016 Americans, and California is the leading provider of solar jobs with 43,700.

The solar industry not only provides jobs, but an affordable way to pay for energy usage, Ortegren said.

According to the California Solar website, the cost to install a solar system ranges from $15,000 to $40,000 in a typical residence after the rebate, with a cost return in about eight to 12 years.

The systems can be installed on roofs, but also on the ground or in the walls or shade structures, though those can be costlier.

The main component is warranted for about 25 years but has a design life of more than 40 and can produce up to 80 percent of capacity up to 25 years.

Most grid-tied solar electric systems do not provide electrical power during electrical power outages, though backup systems can be incorporated with a battery-powered inverter for added complexity and cost.

“Solar is now standalone competitive with the utilities company, where people can buy a solar system that would pay for itself within the first five to seven years and getting that power for free,” Ortegren said.

“So it makes sense for people on the environmental front and on the economic front.”

To contact Staff Writer Jennifer Terman, email jterman@theunion.com or call 530-477-4230.


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The Union Updated Jul 8, 2013 08:18AM Published Jul 22, 2013 07:03AM Copyright 2013 The Union. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.