Florida is the Sunshine State, but that doesn’t mean people think of it as a place where they get a lot of power from the sun. But it turns out that one place in Florida is one of the world centers for solar power. Gainesville.
Yes, Gainesville. With more than 7 megawatts of installed solar power for roughly 200,000 people, the city’s installed capacity per capita is more than triple the United States average. Gainesville also beats the per capita solar installations of entire countries, even solar leaders like Japan and France. Have a look at the chart below.
That chart, in fact, might even undersell Gainesville. The city is among the top solar markets globally. (Bavaria, Germany, and Puglia, Italy, lead the pack.)
The secret behind Gainesville’s, er, gains? The incentivizing power of money. In February of 2009, Gainesville instituted a "feed-in tariff" program for solar. If you have a renewable energy nut in your life, you may have already heard of feed-in tariffs (they’re sometimes called FiTs).
A feed-in tariff system provides people or businesses with solar power systems with a long-term guarantee that they’ll be able to "feed" the electricity they generate back to the grid—and get paid for it. That makes the initial up-front investment in a solar installation less financially risky. In Gainesville’s case, if you put solar panels on your roof, you can connect your system to the Gainesville Regional Utilities grid and get a 20-year contract that commits the utility to buying your surplus electricity for as much as $.32 per kilowatt. The exact price depends on the current cost of solar PV panels and the size of the installation.
One nice thing about a feed-in tariff is that it makes solar power financially sensible not just for major companies, but also for average homeowners. That means individuals can start to shift to renewable energy even when Congress is dragging its feet. Indeed, more than a third of Gainesville’s solar capacity is in small, rooftop installations. And, unlike up-front cash rebates, a feed-in tariff system gives solar system owners an incentive to keep them functioning smoothly.