California installed more megawatts of solar energy in 2013 than it did in the last 30 years combined, the California Solar Energy Industries Association reported.
"It took California over 30 years to build 1,000 MW of rooftop solar, hitting that landmark in early 2013. Today, California is closing out the year with more than 2,000 MW of rooftop solar systems installed statewide," CALSEIA executive director Bernadette Del Chiaro said.
The number is an estimate based on the California Public Utilities Commission's latest reported 1,917 MW of rooftop solar with added figures.
"Those numbers exclude basically all of Pacific Gas and Electric's 2013 installations, by far the largest market in the state, as well as a significant number of installations in other utility territories," Del Chiaro said. "California won't have a clear picture of 2013 -- or 2014 for that matter -- until all of the utilities' data on rooftop solar installations is released to the public -- something resisted by the utilities and still pending at the CPUC."
California, the number one state for solar energy, powers the equivalent of 626,000 homes, and the energy trend has been growing across the nation. About 200,000 U.S. homes and businesses installed rooftop solar in the last 2 years. That's about 3 gigawatts of power and enough to supersede up to five average coal plants.
Once a seemingly far-off alternative, solar has risen to prominence and has been embraced by major retailers like IKEA, Home Depot and even Wal-Mart.
The transition is not just for the wealthy, either. Data from the Center for American Progress found that the move to solar is largely a middle-class phenomenon.
But solar's disruption of the utilities business model has not been entirely welcomed. Following a months-long battle between solar users and utilities companies in the fall, California lawmakers moved to preserve net metering until 2017, a practice allowing customers to be compensated for excess energy produced by their solar panels. Net metering has dug into the profits of utilities companies, which say non-solar users are carrying the weight of paying for the grid.
But in light of a record year, solar advocates remain hopeful for their industry's future.
"No matter how you slice and dice the numbers, 2013 was a good year for solar power and another example of California's leading the country toward a clean energy future," Del Chiaro said.