Palo Alto, CA: solar programs for the next generation of sustainability

Participant Highlight

ASTI Newsletter |February 2014 Edition | By Eileen Hays

The Lucy Evans Bayland Interpretive Center received a 15kW solar array as a part of the City’s 2008 PV demonstration project. Image courtesy of City of Palo Alto.

Home to Stanford University and the birthplace of countless technology start-ups, the City of Palo Alto, California is a magnet for innovation. It must be something in the water, or the energy supply, that makes the City a leader in sustainability planning and solar PV deployment as well. Through its municipal utility, Palo Alto supplies their residents and businesses with 100% carbon neutral energy by procuring hydropower and renewable energy from sources like solar and wind, in accordance with its 2013 Carbon Neutral Plan. The City is one in a handful of communities in both the US and the world with a carbon neutral electricity supply.

The effort does not stop at utility procurement; the City has worked to encourage greater penetration of local distributed solar installations in the community through a variety of solar programs. Net metering and solar rebates through the PV Partners program have provided financial incentives for Palo Alto residents and businesses to install their own solar arrays, resulting in 3.9 MW of installed capacity since 1999. For commercial solar generation system owners, there is the Palo Alto CLEAN program, which is a feed-in-tariff that guarantees the utility’s purchase of generated electricity with a standard long-term contract. The City anticipates the program will supply an additional 3 MW of renewable energy to the utility grid by 2015.

With the success of these programs, the City has its sights set on an even bigger goal: make solar PV more accessible and cost effective for the entire community. The City is proposing a target to increase the installed capacity of local solar PV systems to meet 4% of the City’s total energy needs by 2023 from 0.7% in 2013.

Palo Alto’s City Council will review a draft of the City’s Local Solar Plan for approval in early April. Among the strategies outlined in the Plan is a push to “remove internal system and institutional barriers which increase ‘soft costs’,” one of the biggest hurdles to solar adoption. To support their efforts, the City of Palo Alto and CIty of Palo Alto Utilities (CPAU) have joined the Solar Roadmap as a strategic way to help streamline their permitting and interconnection processes, adopt favorable policies, and identify financing and market development opportunities for local solar deployment. According to Lindsay Joye at City of Palo Alto Utilities, “We appreciate having the Solar Roadmap as a tool to help support Palo Alto’s Local Solar Plan”.

Though the City has only recently signed on to the Solar Roadmap, it has already accomplished many of the outlined goals. The building department adopted an industry standard PV permitting application (Goal P1) and posts informational resources for solar permits and consumer education on their website (Goals P5 and M8), just to name a few.

The ASTI team is dedicated to partnering with the City of Palo Alto to support its sustainability efforts, as the City continues to break new ground with its solar initiatives.

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