Hundreds of people are singing the praises of renewable energy. Many of them have taken part in the Energy Commission's Emerging Renewable Buydown Program. Here are testimonials from some of the participants.



Torkil Olsen, Los Altos Hills, Calif.


My 11-year old daughter calls me a 'pollution freak'" confessed Torkil Olsen, an electrical engineer from Denmark now residing in the Los Altos Hills. "I was the first to install a solar PV system in the community," he added with palpable pride. "I wanted to reduce pollution. Period!"

His background in semi-conductors initially drove Torkil's passion for solar electricity. Then came his interest in electric vehicles (EV). An environmental and efficiency nut, Olsen calculated that charging up an EV with an on-site solar PV generator was the most efficient means of keeping his transportation-related pollution levels down. He always rode his bike to and from work, but needed a car for longer distance trips. "I installed a 2 kilowatt solar PV system in July 1999, but I still don't have the car!" remarked Olsen.

With the help of a $5,700 check from the California Energy Commission, Olsen purchased a PV system that generates 3,000 kilowatt hours annually, which is a little less than half of his annual consumption. "I put it all together myself and it has been performing better than expected," he enthused.

Not only does the PV system reduce electricity consumption, but it keeps their all-electric home's electricity consumption below the more expensive second pricing tier. Now retired, Olsen looks forward to purchasing his EV. He has calculated that his 2 kilowatt PV array would generate enough electricity to power his EV for 16,000 miles annually.

Olsen says what he doesn't use goes back into the grid. "I like to think of this as selling off my power for other customers to use. PG&E doesn't have to increase its size and level of pollution to serve me," said Olsen.

The solar PV system is just one component of the Olsens' efforts to reduce consumption of energy. A wood-burning stove, equipped with sophisticated air pollution controls, provides much of the heat. Double-paned windows and foam insulation also reduce electricity use in his all electric home. Though Olson could have positioned the PV panels to capture 10 percent more electricity during the summer, he decided that he didn't need to go through that level of tinkering with the system since the Los Altos Hills are such an ideal location for solar PV systems. Surprisingly, the PV system generates roughly the same amount of electricity every month of the year.


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Kennneth Lot, Mariposa, Calif.


Another happy solar PV customer is Kenneth Lot of Mariposa, a rural former gold-mining town located in the Sierra foothills at roughly 3,000 foot elevation. Though he would have purchased his 920 watt PV system without a check from the Energy Commission's Emerging Renewable Buydown Program, Lot is grateful that state funds helped make his solar energy purchase more affordable.

"My wife really couldn't stay in business without this system," acknowledged Ken. He purchased the solar system to ensure reliability and back-up power for his wife's beauty salon. Even before recent concerns about power outages, the Lots were accustomed to power losses that could last a day or two due to extreme weather conditions.

The solar PV panels have cut their monthly electricity costs by 30 to 35 percent pretty much throughout the whole year. He likes his solar panels so much he wishes he had purchased enough of them to generate twice the electricity he now gets.

"I sell real estate and I've been pushing solar to many of my prospective clients," he remarked. "It typically costs the same amount of money to install a new solar system as to extend a power line. With solar PV, however, you have an alternative source of power and you are not tied into the high cost power on the grid," Lot added.


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City Center, Los Angeles


Happy solar PV customers not only reside in the suburbs or the rural outback. Some of the most exciting applications are occurring right in the center of our urban centers. For example, an acre of solar panels were installed on the roof space of City Center in Los Angeles. The more than 300 kilowatts of solar PV installed here is reportedly the largest private installation of solar PV in the Western Hemisphere.

Real estate owners, of all people, are now taking the long-term view on electricity reliability and global climate change. "Our goals are, first, to install equipment that increases the reliability of power systems to our tenants," commented Victor J. Coleman , president of Arden Realty, City Center owner. "Our second goal is to reduce the environmental impacts of dirty electrical generation."


RealEnergy, Inc., which builds renewable energy systems for commercial clients, is working with an impressive list of commercial property owners that collectively represent one-quarter of the nation's total commercial office space. Among its investors is CALPERS.

Though solar PV installations involve high up-front expenditures, RealEnergy CEO Kevin Best believes the costs appear reasonable when spread out over the 20-year life of the equipment. After installation, "there's no fuel and no maintenance," Best pointed out. "That's a price cap in my book," he added, referring to controversy in California regulatory policy that has focused on imposing a ceiling on what traditional power plant operators could charge for their wholesale electricity durin