The forecast for renewable energy in California, already America’s strongest solar market, just keeps getting brighter.
Renewable energy represented 20.6 percent of the electricity mix from the state’s three biggest utilities at the end of 2011, up from 17 percent in 2010. While slightly off the 20 percent renewables by 2010 goal set in 2002, the jump suggests the state may reach its ambitious 33 percent by 2020 renewable portfolio standard.
But a wider look at the state reveals it’s not just the state’s big three utilities that are boosting renewables. A new report from the Union of Concerned Scientists found that the thirteen biggest utilities in California, representing 87 percent of all retail electricity sold in the state, generated 30 percent of their electricity from renewables and large-scale hydropower in 2010.
While renewables are growing fast across California, solar power is set to grow exponentially in the Golden State. PG&E, the state’s largest utility expects solar to jump from one percent of its total renewable portfolio to a staggering 40 percent by 2020.
“We’re about to see solar on a project scale larger than almost anywhere in the world,” said Aaron Johnson of PG&E. “There’s no way to get from here to there (33% RPS) without solar.” A similar jump is expected in Southern California Edison’s territory, which forecasts solar to grow from six percent of its total renewable mix to 40 percent by 2020.
But even as more and more solar comes online, the state’s grid operator is proving it can handle the intermittent electricity supply. CalISO set a new solar generation peak of 978 megawatts (MW) earlier this week, a significant mark considering daily peak demand during the summer season is around 33,000 MW.
These individual marks are impressive, for sure, but California’s ultimate solar potential could be much, much brighter. 12 utility-scale solar photovoltaic (PV) plants with a 2,200MW capacity are currently under construction in the state, and a staggering 62 PV plants with 11,600 MW of capacity are under development.
With so many renewable energy projects in flux due to inconsistent and uncertain incentive policies, California stands as a model for states and the federal government to demonstrate the massive impact an ambitious and steady set of renewable energy policies can have on the economy and environment.
California flag image via Shutterstock
Silvio is Principal at Marcacci Communications, a full-service clean energy public relations company based in Washington, D.C.