Published on May 16th, 2013 | by Zachary Shahan


Nearly 100% Of New California Electricity To Be Solar In 2H 2013

May 16th, 2013 by  

Herman Trabish of Greentech Media has happened across a pretty interesting find — 97% of new electricity generation capacity in line to be added to the California grid in the second half (2H) of 2012 is from solar power projects.

This is according to the California Independent System Operator (the ISO), as published in the 2012 Annual Report on Market Issues and Performance. In total, 1,633 megawatts of generation capacity are in line to be added to the grid in 2H 2013. A whopping 1,581 megawatts (MW) are from solar projects. 52 MW are from biomass projects.

That’s a big shift from the first half of the year (and, well, all of previous history). Herman writes: “By the end of the first half of the year, the ISO will have added 3,391 megawatts of nameplate capacity, of which 2,296 megawatts will be natural gas, 565 megawatts will be wind and 530 megawatts will be solar.” Here’s a chart for a visual display of these points and the situation in 2012:

Image Credit: California ISO

Image Credit: California ISO

Herman spent a lot of time discussing various factors related to natural gas in his post (I’d recommend checking it out). A few key points I’d pull out of it are as follows (images added):

new natural gas california

estimated revenue natural gas

natural gas california

  1. Natural gas prices seem to have gotten too low to warrant investment in new natural gas projects. From the report: “The 2012 net revenue estimates for hypothetical combined-cycle and combustion-turbine units continued to fall substantially below the estimates of the annualized fixed costs for these technologies. For a new combined-cycle unit, net operating revenues earned from the markets in 2012 are estimated to be about $38 per kilowatt-year in Southern California, compared to potential annualized fixed costs of $176 per kilowatt-year.” (See 3 charts above.)
  2. More periods like 2H 2013 to come — this is the future. V. John White, executive director of the Center for Energy Efficiency and Renewable Technologies (CEERT), stated: “This is the shape of things to come.” Naturally, with solar hitting grid parity in parts of California, and combined with renewable energy targets, solar is set to keep growing at a fast clip.
  3. Clearly, there needs to be a little more balance than in 2H 2013. Technically, that could be achieved with a broad mix of renewables, demand response solutions, energy efficiency, energy storage, and/or natural gas technologies of the right kind. “What we want is a diverse renewables portfolio that includes solar PV, wind, geothermal and CSP with storage,” White said. “As time goes on, we need to smooth this out and include demand response, energy efficiency, storage, and even out-of-state resources.”
  4. Old natural gas technology not a good fit. Older/conventional natural gas plants take about 90 minutes to ramp up, which is not a good match for renewables. Furthermore, to warrant their cost, they have to run at 40% capacity, but they can’t compete with renewables on a merit order system. And as solar cuts off peak demand and cuts into peak pricing, the situation will get even more difficult.

I think the overall trend is pretty clear. Solar power is growing fast, and it will continue growing at a strong pace. Beyond that, the specifics of California’s future grid are not entirely clear.

Solar still needs a lot of support to reach its potential, especially rooftop solar. And making sure that what fills in around solar as it grows is also clean and renewable is a complementary challenge on which we need to put a strong focus.

The whole California ISO report looks like it’s worth a read, but at 231 pages, it could take several hours (or even days) to go through it all. For now, here are a handful of interesting charts and graphs I’ve pulled out of it:

utility demand response programs california

demand response programs by hourdemand response programs by monthcalifornia electricity generation

california electricity sources

renewable energy generation california

renewable energy split california

hydropower california


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About the Author

is tryin' to help society help itself (and other species) with the power of the typed word. He spends most of his time here on CleanTechnica as its director and chief editor, but he's also the president of Important Media and the director/founder of EV Obsession, Solar Love, and Bikocity. Zach is recognized globally as a solar energy, electric car, and energy storage expert. Zach has long-term investments in TSLA, FSLR, SPWR, SEDG, & ABB — after years of covering solar and EVs, he simply has a lot of faith in these particular companies and feels like they are good cleantech companies to invest in.

  • Erik Andersson Sundén

    What is the estimated annual energy production of the solar panel?

  • Kk

    Cool, but, how long do the components and panels last? How were they made: were fossil fuels used to make them? Do they last forever….You still need fossil fuels, right?

    • Bob_Wallace

      We don’t know how long. There are solar panels that have been in operation for 40 years and are still working. On average solar panels loose about 0.5% output per year. Forty year old panels are putting out about 80% as much power as when they were installed.

      Will this half a percent per year continue? Increase or decrease? We don’t know.

      In a 30 year study of panels about 2% of several hundred panels failed due to problems with connectors or layers delaminating. Stuff like that.

      Will the same hold for panels manufactured now? We don’t know. It wouldn’t be surprising to find that we learned from those failures and make panels more durable now.

      Energy payback for a silicon panel is less than two years, for a thin-film panel it is less than one year.

      So, no more than two years worth of fossil fuels and 40 or more years of not having to burn fossil fuels to generate electricity. That’s a pretty danged good fossil fuels avoidance strategy.

      In 2012 we reached a point at which there were enough solar panels on the world’s grids to produce more electricity than was used to manufacture panels during that year. In terms of net energy use, fossil fuels are no longer part of manufacturing solar panels.

      Right now we’re using natural gas to fill in for when sunshine and wind are not providing us the electricity we need. That’s much better than using coal for that electricity.

      As time goes on and we install more wind turbines and solar panels we’ll use less natural gas. And as soon as we settle in on the best storage solution we’ll start easing natural gas off the grid.

      Coal first. Then gas.

      • Doug

        Bob made a very intelligent response to the above comment.
        I love my panels and am off the grid.

  • really interesting data… this is my first time viewing ANYTHING on this site. I know you guys have to make a living somehow, but do you have to stoop so low as to put a banner ad OVER the bottom of the charts here so you can’t read them? it completely wrecks the flow of the website, and makes it look cheap… just a suggestion- dont do that!

    • sorry, those ads should show up *extremely* infrequently. personally, i almost never see them (maybe twice, after thousands and thousands of pageviews). apologies.

      • Otis11

        Yeah – if you’re signed in you tend to see them less… but there are still quite a few of them. Any way we can change them to ads on the side instead?

  • Ross

    Memo to fund managers. Don’t be the last one holding the fossil fuel stocks/shares. Every energy company needs a convincing renewable energy plan or it’s going to zero.

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