Solar Power Hitting New Records In California

Half a year has passed since we last checked in on the progress of solar power production in California. Not a long time in the big scheme of things, but with tons of new installations coming online, plenty of time for substantial solar growth in the Golden State – and growth there has been.

As noted by ReWire’s Chris Clarke, on Tuesday this week the state’s utility-scale photovoltaic plants reached a peak power production of 2,806 megawatts, according to the California Independent System Operator, which runs much of the state’s grid. For the day, these plants provided 16,916 megawatt-hours of energy.

california solar

Renewables production on the record-breaking day (image via California ISO)

To put that in perspective, our last story on this topic back in June had solar peaking at 1,897 MW, and six months earlier the peak was about 1,235 MW. So the gains, every six months, are getting bigger.

Here’s why: Several big solar plants have been added in recent months in California – led by the 250-megawatt California Valley Solar Ranch in San Luis Obispo County, Calif. The pace of growth doesn’t figure to slow much in the foreseeable future, either. Big as California Valley Solar Ranch is, it will soon be dwarfed by other California plants: the 550-megawatt Topaz project and the 579-megawatt Antelope Valley Solar Projects, about an hour north of Los Angeles, are under construction now.

And here’s another key point: As Clarke highlights, this is but a piece of California’s big solar story.

CaISO’s figures reflect only that solar generation that’s on the utility side of the state’s electric meters. According to the California Solar Statistics site, which tracks rooftop solar projects that sell power to utilities through net metering contracts, there were 1,898 megawatts of solar power generating capacity on California rooftops (and carports and other such places) as of December 4.

One final thought: Utility-scale solar provided 2.5 percent of the electricity generated in California on the record-breaking day this week, but rooftop production surely pushed solar’s total contribution well over 3 percent, perhaps even to 4 percent. Given that, and with more growth expected, it’s becoming easier and easier to imagine the day when solar accounts for 10 percent of California’s electricity generation.

Pete Danko is a writer and editor based in Portland, Oregon. His work has appeared in Breaking Energy, National Geographic's Energy Blog, The New York Times, San Francisco Chronicle and elsewhere.

  • Jerry Graf

    Topaz:

    $2.44 billion (that’s 2.44 G$) for 550 MW works out to $4.44 per watt.

    Expected production of 1096 GWh per year represents a capacity factor of 22.7%; and can never be expected to pay back the $2.44 billion investment if sold at market rate.

    25 year PPA that allows sale of the electricity at well above market rates.

    http://www.reuters.com/article/2012/09/17/markets-ratings-topazsolarfarms-idUSWNA552720120917

  • Jerry Graf

    Antelope Valley Solar 1:

    $1.36 billion (that’s 1.36 G$) for 230 MWac works out to $5.91 per watt.

    Expected production of 482,000 MWh per year represents a capacity factor of 23.9%; and can never be expected to pay back the $1.36 billion investment if sold at market rate.

    Another recipient of a 25 year PPA.

    http://lpo.energy.gov/projects/first-solar-inc-antelope/

  • jburt56

    At 10% and above the naysaying falls off. . .