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PA Sunshine Counts: Our Common Solar Wealth

May 27, 2014 @ 7:00 pm

PA Sunshine Counts: Our Common Solar Wealth

A deep dive into the PA Sunshine Program and planning a big look ahead

Vera Cole, Penn State and MAREA

Five years ago this month, the Pennsylvania Sunshine Rebate Program opened its doors and began distributing over $100 million in rebates. Between May 2009 and January 2014, the program supported nearly 100,000 kW of new solar electric capacity, with more than 7,000 homeowners and business owners receiving rebate checks.

To qualify for a rebate, installers filed an application with the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (PA DEP) that included extensive technical, pricing and design data. MAREA saw this collection of data as a promising opportunity—what a beautiful and well controlled set of solar installation data!

On behalf of MAREA, Vera Cole asked the PA DEP for the data. This seemingly innocent question evolved into a fascinating, and perplexing, “Right To Know” case that went to Commonwealth Court before finally being resolved, with the PA DEP ordered to release all requested data. In PA, nearly all records held by public agencies are presumed to be public, with access granted through our Right to Know law, a powerful tool for environmentalists and advocates. At our May meeting, Vera will share the twists and turns of this legal case and how the “little guy” can win.

The released data paints a big picture of the Sunshine program’s five year story, revealing time, place, technology and costs. Where are the installations? Which counties have the most, least? What brands of modules were most used? Which inverters were most popular, how about microinverters? What was average installed cost, how did it change over time? Who were the most active installers? To answer these questions and more, we’ve combed through the data looking to extract trends and patterns that may be of use to the industry, policy makers and system owners (current and prospective). This information is being released in MAREA’s first new annual report, “PA Sunshine Counts: Our Common Solar Wealth.” Highlights of this data will be presented and discussed at the May meeting, with the full report released soon thereafter.

MAREA now intends to use this data as a springboard for a new project to help Pennsylvania solar electric system owners find and share information with one another. Called “My Solar Matters,” the project will follow solar electric installations over the system life, interacting with owners to learn as much as we can about system performance and issues over time. The findings, published annually, will provide a fresh kind of quantified data about the real experience of solar electric system owners. We hope this data will be used to support fact-based decision making and policy planning.  At the May meeting, we will outline this project and talk about how you can join the planning group.

And finally, it’s back…a new post-rebate Sunny Money! Many of you may remember MAREA’s online calculator to help homeowners estimate system size, cost, environmental impact, savings and, everyone’s favorite, payback. It’s been revamped and will be rolled out at the May meeting before going live again on the MAREA website.  

Vera Cole is current president of MAREA and lead faculty for the Bachelor of Arts in Energy and Sustainability Policy at Penn State’s World Campus.

Hope you can join us for an evening full of solar talk. After the meeting, please plan to stick around and chat with friends old and new. And we’re always interested in your ideas for MAREA speakers, activities and services. Light snacks will be served. Hope to see you there!

For questions, contact Vera Cole, <a>[masked]</a> or [masked].

Free DVD with MAREA membership  While supplies last, all new and renewing MAREA members will receive a free copy of “Saving Sunshine, Keeping the Lights on with Batteries and Solar Power,” the 30-minute DVD produced by MAREA this year with funding from the Berks Community Foundation and distributed by Bullfrog Films. It’s terrific film, offering an interesting and easily understood explanation of the electricity grid and distribution generation, especially the role of batteries with solar. MAREA is a 501(c)3 non-profit. Donations and memberships are how we keep the lights on. You can join at the meeting or anytime online. Thanks for your help. 


TEK Park
9999 Hamilton Blvd.
Breinigsville, PA 18031 us


Mid-Atlantic Renewable Energy Association (eastern PA)