Clean Power affordable solar power in California

Published on July 2nd, 2013 | by Giles Parkinson


Size Matters For Californian Solar Projects

July 2nd, 2013 by  

This article first appeared on RenewEconomy

In California in solar installations, it is the sheer scale of the projects that takes the breath away.

In Australia, to the country’s great embarrassment, there is just a single utility scale solar PV project, of just 10 MW.  That was built by First Solar and completed last year.

At the AVSR1 project in the Antelope Valley in the high deserts behind Los Angeles, First Solar expects to complete the 250 MW (AC) installation later this year.

That will be the biggest in the state, for a short time.  Three other projects are under construction, or about to commence, in the state that have capacities of more than 500 MW. First Solar’s own pipeline includes the 550 MW Topaz and Desert Sunlight projects in the same state, and the 300 MW Stateline solar project. Its 290 MW Agua Caliente solar farm in Arizona is currently the largest.

Even in the Antelope Valley, which enjoys excellent solar resources because of its cloudless days and high eleveation (around 800m) there will be 800 MW of utility scale solar PV completed by First Solar and other developers within the next 18 months – and another 25 projects are under consideration. (See our interview with Lancaster mayor Rex Parris for his plans to make the area the solar capital of the world)

To give another perspective of the difference between the US and Australia in utility scale solar – the highest rates of installation at AVSR1, First Solar was installing up to 8 MW (nearly Australia’s entire large scale capacity) in a single week, at a single plant. (Some key dimensions of the projects are given below)

The final phase of the AVSR1 project will be the construction of 52 MW of solar capacity mounted on a single-axis tracking system, the largest such  installation to date.

First Solar expects that to deliver around 13 to 14 per cent more output from the same modules, and enable it to increase output in the shoulder periods of its production – particularly the late afternoon peak when electricity demand is highest. “Fixed tilt is going to give you more bang for your back,” says Tony Perrino, the project manager.

These large solar projects are also attracting mainstream investors. They only way they get built is when they strike power purchase agreements with the local utilities – in California, the utilities have to meet a 33 per cent renewable energy target by 2020.

Once these have been signed, large investors are brought in. In the case of AVSR1, it was Exelon (the largest nuclear operator in the US), while Warren Buffet, NRG (the country largest generator), and Next Era, formerly Florida Light and Power, are other owners of major solar projects.

While the build-out in California has been driven by its renewable energy target, other states are creating demand for solar by phasing out fossil fuels. The neighbouring state of Nevada, also sun-rich, announced it April it will phase out its two coal-fired generators, both more than 500 MW each, and replace them will solar and gas.

James Woodruff, First Solar’s vice president of state and local government affairs, says that will crate space for around 1,300 MW of solar capacity to be built in that state. “That’s a big deal,” he tells RenewEconomy at the AVSR1 site. “The cost of retrofitting coal plants is so big. Utilities are recognising that it is just too dammed expensive.”

Here are some of First Solar’s key metrics for the AVSR1 project. Note the number of modules – 3.7 million.


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About the Author

is the founding editor of, an Australian-based website that provides news and analysis on cleantech, carbon, and climate issues. Giles is based in Sydney and is watching the (slow, but quickening) transformation of Australia's energy grid with great interest.

  • Daniel Ferra

    Why cant a Voting, Tax paying Homeowner, be allowed to participate in the Ca. State mandate of 33% Renewable Energy by 2020, with out third party leasing ? Do we really want to share our profits ?

    from the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA) and GTM Research, residential solar installations rose 53 percent year-over-year, and have vastly grown for 12 of the past 13 quarters. In California alone, third-party solar installations account for two-thirds of the residential PV market, which exceeded non-residential for the first time.

    Here is what is going on, and how we can change it with a Residential Feed in Tariff.

    “Examples of how they (and our complicit energy “experts”) have been “slowing the process” are:

    (1) Renewable portfolio standards (RPS) which create de facto caps on the deployment of renewable energies. (The Germans don’t have any RPSs. Their FIT program is open ended, the more capacity, the merrier!)

    (2) Net-metering caps. Most states only allow a small percentage of one to two percent of peak load to be net-metered. There are exceptions however. Colorado, for example, has no aggregate capacity limit. However, most states do. Net-metering, therefore, will certainly “hold back the clean energy tide.”

    (3) The third party leasing rent-to-own outfits like Sungevity, but more importantly, Solarcity, which just went public with an IPO, fight tooth and nail to protect scarce capacity carveouts (from the state RPSs) so as to bolster their chosen business models as the expense of all others. The same goes for the utility-scale folks. The in-fighting, due in part to the small de facto caps of the RPSs, have significantly slowed the deployment of renewables in the U.S.

    (4) Most importantly is how we connect distributed renewable energies to the grid in the U.S., the most salient difference between the American net-metering program and the German feed-in tariff is that net-metering is *retail* energy whereas the FIT is *wholesale* energy. Thus, net-metering does little more than offset onsite loads and in the process it shifts the rate burdens of lost customers onto other ratepayers. Those rate burdens also include all of the utility’s overhead as well since compensation is at the retail rate. A FIT, on the other hand, as wholesale energy feeds the energy directly into the electric grid, and because it is must take wholesale energy it must be used first, and in many cases it will off set more expensive energies found on the grid, such as peaker plant power,spinning reserves and so forth saving rate payers money.” Bob Tregilus

    “The motivation and the goals of Germany’s unprecedented solar policy are neither a secret nor hard to research (EEG 2004, Article 1). For decades, the main problem of solar had been identified as it being too expensive to deploy. But, at the same time, only deployment and mass production would lead to significant cost reductions. To overcome this barrier, the German parliament adapted the Feed-in-Tariff (FiT) in 2004 to incentivize the installation of solar PV systems, thus creating the first uncapped mass market for solar power. It was the goal to reduce the technology’s cost through deployment, innovation, and market forces within the solar industry. The plan has succeeded a lot faster than anticipated and the cost of PV is expected to decline by at least another 50% by 2020.” Paul Gipe

    The Feed in Tariff is a policy mechanism designed to accelerate investment in Renewable Energy, the California FiT allows eligible customers generators to enter into 10- 15- 20- year contracts with their utility company to sell the electricity produced by renewable energy, and guarantees that anyone who generates electricity from R E source, whether homeowner, small business, or large utility, is able to sell that electricity. It is mandated by the State to produce 33% R E by 2020

    FIT policies can be implemented to support all renewable technologies including:
    Photovoltaics (PV)
    Solar thermal
    Fuel cells
    Tidal and wave power.

    So long as the payment levels are differentiated appropriately, FIT policies can increase development in a number of different technology types over a wide geographic area. At the same time, they can contribute to local job creation and increased clean energy development in a variety of different technology sectors.

    FIT policies are successful around the world, notably in Europe. This suggests that they will continue to grow in importance in the United States, especially as evidence mounts about their effectiveness as framework for promoting renewable energy development and job creation.

    With the worlds carbon levels at 400-410 parts per million and rising, globally emitting over 32 Gigatons of CO2 each year, causing Global Warming and life changing pollution, Renewable Energy will address these issues and start us on the road back to 350 parts per million of carbon, Thank You Bill McKibben

    California law does not allow Homeowners to oversize their Renewable Energy systems

    Allowing homeowners to oversize their Renewable Energy systems, is a true capitalistic tool, that will give us the potential to challenge the utility monopolies, democratize energy generation and transform millions of homes and small business into energy generators, during Sandy, Solar homes where not utilized to their full potential, because there was no disconnect and or transfer switch, to turn off incoming grid and start in home Solar power. how comforting it would be, to have mandatory transfer switches on all residential and small business renewable energy installations.

    We don’t even take into account the tremendous health cost to us and our planet, when we burn oil, coal, and natural gas, which would make them more expensive than Renewable Energy.

    Since 2000-2001, according to the California Energy Commission, power plants with maximum output totaling about 20,000 megawatts have become operational. An additional 3,900 megawatts are under construction and 4,700 more have been approved and are in pre-construction phases.

    The new plants should boost California’s energy independence. The state currently produces about 71% of the electricity it consumes, while it imports 8% from the Pacific Northwest and 21% from the Southwest.

    Natural gas was burned to make 45.3% of California’s power generated in-state in 2011. Nuclear power from San Onofre and Diablo Canyon in San Luis Obispo County accounted for 18.3%, large hydropower 18.3%, renewable 16.6% and coal 1.6%.

    We need a National Feed in Tariff, for Renewable Energy, with laws that level the playing field, this petition starts with homeowners in California.

    Japan, Germany, and our state of Hawaii, will pay residents between 21- 47 cents per kilowatt hour, here in California they will pay a commercial FiT in a few counties at 17 cents per kilowatt hour, No Residential FiT and they wont let us oversize our Residential Renewable Energy systems.

    Want to change our Feed in Tariff? Campaign to allow Californian residents to sell electricity obtained by renewable energy for a fair pro-business market price. Will you read, sign, and share this petition ?

    • Wow, you might get comment of the month for that one.

    • eject

      (1) The German FiT programme does distinguish between different types and sizes of installations. You are also not allowed to feed in more then 70% of your peak installation power. This will not really do much in total yield since output will only reach peak capacity for a couple of minutes on a very good day, it does helpd to prevent silly uper spikes by making the peak broader.

      But you are right, there is no hard upper limit. The FiT programme will, however, reach 0 cent with reaching 50GWp. This will of course stop making the FiT attractive for financial reasons once it goes below 5-8 cent (all my numbers are in €).

      Countries with net metering are way better of then people installing PV on their roofs in Germany.

      FiT for the last months in € cent/kWh: Note, the rate of the starting month will be paid for 20 years, the drop is for new installations.

      Rooftop installations size——Feb—–Mar—–Apr
      0kWp to 10kWp—————-16.6—-16.2—–15.9
      >10kWp to 40kWp————-15.8—-15.4—–15.1
      >40kWp to 1MWp————–14.0—-13.7—–13.4
      >1MWp + free field installs—–11.5—-11.2—–11.0

      retail electricity? 25-28cents.
      so you sell them the stuff for 15 cents at noon and buy it back (well not really the same) in the evening for 28 cents.

      This will drive solar PV owners in Germany into residential battery storage even though the under utilised hydro storage plants would be more effective.

  • Mark Dansie

    Australia has over 1 million households with Solar panels around 6 times the take up rate of Californian per head of population. The difference is rather than have the panels go to the power companies, they empowered the consumer. We also have solar hot water systems on nearly every house……not something I see in California.

    • Good points. And, as an addendum, Australia has over 4 times more solar power installed per capita as well as per GDP:

      The only states that rank higher are Arizona, Hawaii, Nevada, and New Jersey (and New Mexico per GDP):

      • Mark Dansie

        By the way I am a big fan of yours and appreciate your articles, however I could not resist putting the comparisons in a new light regarding my native country. In Australia it was about empowering the people and creating jobs for installers rather than subsidizing manufacturers. Some people may call that socialism, but it is the tax payers money after all.
        kind Regards

        • Matt

          Yes, Australia is going the path of people owning the power. While in the US the rules are written more in favor of large corps. Having the power on local roof has many more side benefits.

  • Ross

    Paul Hogan/Crocodile Dundee, only in reverse.

    “Call that a solar project?”

    “This is a a solar project.”

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