The First State To Generate More Than 5% Of Electricity From Utility-Scale Solar Is…

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Originally published on EIA.

mainCalifornia has become the first state with more than 5% of its annual utility-scale electricity generation from utility-scale solar power, according to EIA’s Electric Power Monthly. California’s utility-scale (1 megawatt (MW) or larger) solar plants generated a record 9.9 million megawatthours (MWh) of electricity in 2014, an increase of 6.1 million MWh from 2013. California’s utility-scale solar production in 2014 was more than three times the output of the next-highest state, Arizona, and more than all other states combined.

Several large plants were phased into operation in California during 2014, including two 550 MW solar photovoltaic plants, Topaz and Desert Sunlight (Phases 1 and 2), as well as the 377 MW Ivanpah (Phases 1, 2, and 3) and the 250 MW Genesis solar thermal plants. In total, nearly 1,900 MW of new utility-scale solar capacity was added, bringing the state’s utility-scale capacity for all solar technologies to 5,400 MW by the end of 2014.

California has promoted solar power through a series of state policies, including a renewable portfolio standard (RPS) that requires electricity providers to obtain 33% of the power they sell from eligible renewable sources by 2020. In 2014, the state obtained 22% of its electricity from nonhydropower renewables including wind, solar, and biomass.

California also created incentives, including rebates and net-metering policies, to encourage rooftop and other small-scale solar capacity, whose generation is not captured in the above figure. By the end of 2014, more than 2,300 MW of small-scale solar capacity was installed on homes and businesses, according to the California Public Utilities Commission.

The top three states in utility-scale solar generation in 2014 were California, Arizona, and Nevada. These states in the southwestern United States have some of the best solar resources in the world. However, states with less-favorable solar resources, such as New Jersey and Massachusetts, also are among the top 10 states in total solar generation. All of the top 10 states—with the exception of Florida—have a renewable portfolio standard in place. Most of those policies include a specific target for solar power or customer-sited generation.

chart2The increase in California’s solar production came the same year that drought conditions caused hydroelectric generation to fall 46% compared to the previous five-year average. Although solar is only available at certain times of the day, the annual increase in California’s solar generation in 2014 offset 83% of the decrease in hydroelectric generation. Along with increases in generation from wind power and geothermal energy, solar power helped make California the top state producer of nonhydroelectric renewable electricity in 2014, narrowly topping Texas.

Principal contributor: Allen McFarland

Reprinted with permission.

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47 thoughts on “The First State To Generate More Than 5% Of Electricity From Utility-Scale Solar Is…

  • That’s an absolutely incredible(!!) 250% increase in one year!!!. It probably won’t keep up that pace but it is nice while it lasts.

    • A 3% market capture in one year. If that pace holds CA would reach “solar saturation” in about 12 years.

      I’m assuming somewhere around 40% is where solar starts requiring too much storage to penetrate further. 40% solar, 40% wind, 20% other renewables.

      • Because rooftop solar can expand regardless of what the wholesale electricity price is, provided solar electricity mostly comes from rooftops and thanks to demand shifting to take advantage of cheap daytime electricity, if a lot of it comes from rooftops, solar penetration can go over 50% without any storage. And I see California’s retail electricity price is almost as high as in the Australian state of Victoria with Californian roofs looking as though they average more sunshine.

        • Sun doesn’t shine at night, so Solar PV cannot to much better than 40% or 50% without storage. No worries, very low cost storage is coming to the market. There will be virtually no limit to Solar PV penetration. Only limit I see is going to come from high penetration of even lower cost Wind, remaining Hydro and already existing geothermal, as shown on chart.

          • Actually we can go over 50% electricity from solar for the following reasons:

            (1) We use considerably more electricity during the day than at night.

            (2) Demand will shift from the evening and night to take advantage of the low daytime electricity prices that will result.

            (3) Our existing pumped storage capacity will charge itself on solar power during the day.

            (4) We can simply curtail excess solar production. Currently it is cheaper t

          • With current energy storage costs and the fact our carbon price has been murdered it is not worthwhile to try to store excess electricity from any source on grid, but the economics of home and business energy storage are quite different and with our low to no feed-in tariffs for rooftop solar we could end up with a lot of storage capacity in people’s houses and workplaces. We’re not yet at the point where it pays for itself, but we are closing in on it.

      • California could likely go higher than 40% as long as connected states to the North have little solar.

        • I see potential for CA to export solar northward on the Pacific Intertie which now brings hydro-electricity from the PNW. Even extending into Wyoming if the new HVDC line is built which would connect to both the Pacific and Intermountain Interties.

          But I don’t think that would raise the percent CA was getting from solar. It would electricity generated from solar for export.

          • Whether you call it CA solar or exported solar just comes down to accounting, at least as long as imports during non-solar hours would balance it out.

          • I was talking about percent consumed in state.

          • Yes, but it’s down to accounting whether you say California consumes the solar and exports fossil fuel electricity, does the opposite, or something in between. IMO production share is the only one that makes sense.

          • I would be curious to see what the transmission losses are. Even if we can make it, if we lose ~50% of the power getting it to Wyoming, that’s not a huge win. Better than not making clean power, but not HUGE.

          • HVDC lines lose about 3.5% per 1,000 km (600 miles) . LA to Wyoming should be no more than 1,200 miles, so a 7% loss plus about 1.5% loss converting up to HVDC and back down again.

            That’s no more or less loss than one would experience with storage.

        • I agree. In order to efficiently and cost-effectively increase the renewable power share, cross-state power linkage needs to be raised. (Especially on utility level – as mentioned in the article above).

          • CA is pretty well linked in with its neighbors. We’ve been buying coal-electricity from out of state for a long time. And we’ve got two HVDC lines, one running to the PNW and another to Utah.

            The Pacific Intertie that connects to NW hydro sweeps by Nevada where it can pick up Nevada geothermal.

            The Mountain Intertie is being extended (in the planning phase) from Utah up to Wyoming. It was a coal route but could bring in wind from Wyoming, early morning solar from Utah and geothermal from Utah (if they would start developing their fields).

      • Very low cost storage now coming to the market means Solar PV percentage will not be limited by the need for storage.
        55% Solar PV
        30% Wind
        15% other RE 😉

        • Predicting the future is pretty danged difficult.

          Remember, the wind tends to blow a lot more hours than the Sun shines. With both wind and solar headed for the ~3 cents/kWh price point we’re likely to use what can be used directly before pulling from storage.

          With solar matching up with peak demand we’re likely use a lot of solar when the Sun does shine.

          I’m guessing about half and half with hydro and geothermal, perhaps some tidal and biomass taking lesser shares.

          Many days storage is likely to get a double workout. Moving nighttime wind to the morning peak and solar to the evening peak.

          • “Predicting the future is pretty danged difficult.”
            Yep, just hav’in some fun.
            More Wind or more Solar, either way we win.

          • I’m also curious to see how EVs enter the fold as they could bring an increase in night time grid demand. our EV pulls an average of 9kwh/day – mostly at night. Intelligent chargers that can be programmed to pull at specific times of the night (especially if they can talk to the utility) could absorb this excess wind power and still get the car charged by 5/6/7am.

    • It’s not actually a 250% increase in production. The percentage went up because hydro went down. It was indeed ~150% increase. 3.8TWh->9.9TWh, which is pretty phenomenal.

      This rate of increase has been going on for ~20-30 years, but starting from a really small base.

      Hawaii is the place to watch to learn what the real upper bounds of deployment is, they have pushed to much higher shares than people thought likely.

      • You’re right. Thanks for correcting me. I should have said “Production is now 260% of last year’s production which is a 160% increase.” Still – phenomal.

        I completely agree about Hawaii. Rates there are so high even cutting free of the grid with storage makes economic sense.

  • Wow. If it weren’t for the massive increase in solar and wind capacity, California’s crippled hydro output would have caused a huge decrease in electricity production.

    Their renewable energy investment is keeping the state alive.

    • Good point. And CA’s hydro might be permanently degraded. It’s kind of hard seeing the snowpack returning to where it used to be. Snow is moving up the mountains and the mountains get skinnier as you go uphill.

      • If record precipitation and floods in Australia are any indicator, California may end up with dam busting amounts of water falling out of the sky in the future. So expect incredibly destructive floods providing coda’s to superdroughts. Also, the state will catch on fire. Welcome to our world.

        • California has been burning for years now. Our fire season runs pretty much year round.

          A couple years back we had ~2,000 fires started in one afternoon by thunderstorms. Some of the fires burned from spring until the winter rains. That was the year our tomatoes did not ripen, lived under a brown haze all summer.

          • Them eucalypts explode good, don’t they?

          • Also, you know that things are too damn hot when smoke from a bushfire blows overhead and you are relieved to have the shade.

          • I’ve only burned them as firewood. Well seasoned you can light one with a match, no kindling needed.

          • Fortunately they won’t explode like that. While eucalypts have evolved to survive mild fires well, in severe fires some apparently decide that if they won’t make no one else will and detonate. Fortunately it doesn’t happen often, but since trees are usually fitted into the “things that don’t explode” category in our minds, the fact that any explode at all is reason enough for mental discomfort.

            By the way, we call eucalypts gum trees in Australia because with some trees you can pull back the bark and find edibal gum underneath. Or in Queensland, a foot long centipede.

          • I’ll mention that our beloved leader, the Great Abbott Tony of the Order of the Budgie Smuggler, has stated that global warming is not making bushfires worse. Now this is not just a politican repeating coal industry talking points to keep his donors happy, this is a man who fights bushfires. He is a volunteer firefighter and when there is a fire in his area he goes out there and physically fights it. And then he goes and denies that higher temperatures make bushfires worse. To be a person who physically battles bushfires and then deny there is a link between temperature and bushfire danger goes beyond normal political lying into new uncharted territory for Australia. As Michael Caine said, “Some men just want to watch the world burn.”

        • “California may end up with dam busting amounts of water falling out of the sky in the future.”

          That has been my general observations since I moved to California. The droughts don’t seem to end quietly. Califonia’s utilities are required to supply 33% of electricity from renewables by 2020. (excluding currently existing large hydro). If the drought ends before 2020 the 33% renewable target might be hit before the deadline.

    • Drought is going to kill California. Build electric power plants that generate freshwater and electricity at the same time. It can be done with solar thermal, nuclear, biogas powered plants with small modifications. Simply use saltwater for boiling to drive a water-proofed turbine and as the water condenses, it is freshwater.

      • As in Australia, there is no economic case for more desalination in California. As in Australia it is politically easier to build desalination plants than to cut the amount of water going to farmers, and so desalination plants get built. (Almond growing apparently consumes more water than cities of Los Angelous and San Franciso do combined.) Australia has bought back some water from farmers to try to stop our river from running in reverse but not enough has been bought back for safety in a drought. A total of $3.2 billion ($2.5 billion US) has just been provided to buyback another 15 gigaliters of irrigation water from farmers. It’s not enough, but thank goodness it is being done now at the start of a severe drought rather than trying to do it in the middle.

        • Where is your computation for no economic case for more desalination when the technology I am referring to is that the freshwater is a by product of electric generation? It is very efficient and the water produced is very cheap as a by-product.

          Since my idea is open source, here’s my further suggestion to improve on this. Heat the saltwater in the parabolic solar trough (or even CSP in combination with molten salt storage, a 24×7 energy generation system) to produce steam, it would have more than 90% efficiency for this process. Then use the steam to run turbines (when coated with waterproofing surface etched by lasers, efficiency of turbines dramatically increase) to generate electricity, and in the process the steam condenses, collect as freshwater, the condensate is warm, but it can be cooled by heat exchanging with the incoming stream of seawater. The hot remaining saltier water after which steam has evaporated, use it to preheat incoming water already warmed by the condensate. This way, the electricity production has very good efficiency and the by product is distilled water. Kiling two birds with one stone.

          While it does indeed take a lot of energy to boil water, that energy is recoverable. Indeed, that is exactly how most power plants work. Boil water, use the steam to run a turbine, condense the steam. The condensate is fresh water. Potentially every steam turbine power plant is a fresh water plant as well. There may be some inefficiencies introduced but I expect they would be less than that of separate power plant/ water plant combination if a dual output design was developed purposefully.
          NREL or DOE should do the energy balance on this concept before dismissing it as not economical. No one has proven to me that this approach is not economical, as it is basically a minor modifications of existing steam based turbine electric generation used by many power plants.

          • I’ve thought of the same thing, but can’t come up with a solution to 2 problems with the idea:
            – what to do with the saltier water (brine)? If you reprocess it to extract as much fresh water as possible, how do you remove the remaining salt from the boiler? If you send it back out to sea, what kind of ecological damage would we be doing to the local beach/reef where this desalination is located?
            – The resultant steam from boiling salt water isn’t just water vapor, but could contain trace amounts of other compounds found in the salt water. Do those compounds contaminant the freshwater? And what about maintenace of the seawater intake/outtake pipes and boilers? Seawater is mildly corrosive.

            These additional costs needs to be factored into the costs for producing the freshwater.

            From what I found, merchant vessels use vacuum pumps to produce freshwater from sea water, so no boiling needed and it’s much more energy efficient.

          • disposal of brine in the sea is typically easy. Just dilute it with extra sea water. For every gallon of brine produced mix it with 10 or more gallons a salt water. Then dump the result in the sea . It is no longer salty enough to cause any problems. All new desal plants do this. Since all water on earth eventually ends up in the sea , converting sea water to drinking water does not increase salt levels in the ocean.

            “but could contain trace amounts of other compounds found in the salt water. Do those compounds contaminant the freshwater?”

            yes trace levels of salt and other elements will be in the fresh water produced. It is extremely expensive to get 100% pure water. Typically the salt level in desal water is less than what is common in typically hard water that many people drink.

            “And what about maintenace of the seawater intake/outtake pipes and boilers? Seawater is mildly corrosive.”

          • “All ships face the same corrosion issues. A wide variety of solutions exist to combate the problem and they are in use on ships today.”

            Yes, but treating the exterior of a ship’s hull is vastly simpler than treating the interior of pipes and a boiler that’s meant to reach hundreds of degrees Celcius.

            “disposal of brine in the sea is typically easy. Just dilute it with extra sea water.”

            Yes, but at the scale that California requires (per Marion’s suggestion), that’s alot of extra seawater that you’re pumping through to mix … which incidentally consumes some of that renewable energy that was just produced by the solar thermal plant.

            Now that I’ve typed that out, perhaps the key to producing the freshwater from a solar thermal power plant isn’t to feed the sea water into the boiler, but to use the waste heat from the thermal process (use a closed-cycle fresh water boiler) to warm seawater into an evaporation pool and collect the distilled water from the evaporation pool instead? This eliminates the need for boiler and pipe maintenance and reduces the need to return some of the waste seawater back to sea.

            The amount of freshwater produced is lower, but the energy and economic costs are much lower as well.

          • “Yes, but treating the exterior of a ship’s hull is vastly simpler than treating the interior of pipes and a boiler that’s meant to reach hundreds of degrees Celcius.”

            Your water heater is a steel tank with zinc rod installed in it. The zinc gradually corrodes . As long as the zinc is corroding the steel tank will not rust. However once all the zinc has corroded, the steel will start to rust.

            The pipe could easliy have a hole where a zinc rod is inserted. The pipe willl not rust as long as the zinc rod is periodically replaced. Instead of zinc you could also use a rod that doesn’t corrode and apply a small electric charge between it and the steel. The electric charge would do the same thing as the zinc. Or you could simply use plastic pipes which don’t corrode. Corrosion is a very managablle issue.

            The cost of desalinization using revers osmosis is about 3 to 5.5 KWH per cubic meter of water produced. That cost includes dilution. In comparison using heat to designate sea water uses the electrical equivalent of 6.5 to 25 KWH per cubic meter (exact values depend on the methode used). Reverse osmosis is much more efficient and the dilution cost is small.

            Additionally you don’t always need the use energy to dilute the brine. For every gallon of fresh water produced by the plant one gallon of wast water is processed by a sewage treatment plant and then the wast water is dumped in the sea. The brine could be diluted by the sewage waste water. Another method it to create a long disposal pipe with a small nozzle every foot or so. The large number of small nozzles on a long pipe would also dilute it without using a lot of every. Again dilution is not a big problem.

            California already has a number of desalinization plants and more are being discussed. some are small. others are big. San Diego is building a desal plant that will produce 50 million gallons of water a day. construction started in 2013 and it will be completed in 2016. Desalinization is widely used on islands and in the middle east.

          • Japan and many other countries do use power station waste heat to desalinate water. However, improvements in reverse osmosis desalination have lowered its cost and it is now generally the preferred method. But there are people working on improved solar desalination, particularly for remote areas.

          • I guess I should explain myself more clearly when I say there is no economic case for desalination. In Australia farmers pay much less for water than people in towns and cities do. Enough to make desalination worthwhile. But farmers don’t pay nearly enough for desalination to be worthwhile. So rather than build expensive desalination plants, it would be considerably less costly to just pay farmers for a portion of the water they use. Unfortunately politics get in the way. Here in Australia people who sell irrigation equipment are opposed to it and they like to tell farmers that the government is coming to take there water and they should dig up the guns they buried back in 1996. This is despite the fact that our water buyback schemes have been completely voluntary.

      • There is no evidence whatsoever to suggest that California has a shortage of water. Instead, it needs conservation (mainly by agriculture, but households and industry must do their bit too – think direct potable reuse).

        All forms of desalination are costly and have never before done on a scale that would make a meaningful dent in CA’s water usage. Compare to the simple and cheap changes to irrigation practices that could save more water than all desalination capacity in the world combined.

  • And we can do much better. There is a LOT of sun out here from March to October.

    We do need to start adding some grid storage to handle the 6 to 9 pm second peak though.

  • HA didn’t even make the chart? I guess most of theirs is below 1MW.

  • I dunno? A small pop state like Nebraska could come outta nowhere.

  • PG&E now has 150,000 customers with solar.

    “In Pacific Gas & Electric territory, the number of new solar installations is growing at the rapid clip of 4,000 new customers per month. At that pace, the California utility connects another solar customer to its electric grid about every 11 minutes.”

    “PG&E has also succeeded in reducing the processing time for new solar installations from four weeks to five days.”

  • Utilities are trying to add as much as they can in order to position themselves (not ratepayers) as providers of Solar energy which allows them to still keep their ratepayers as customers,instead of having the ratepayers install their own Solar (of all flavors) and then effectively become competitors to the Utilities, that will demand fair pay for the Energy they are pushing into the Grid.

    Anyone that pushing Energy into the Grid should get the same amount as the Utility is paying itself for its own Solar energy it pushes into the Grid at any particular time, otherwise the Utility is ripping off all the other Generators of Solar energy so it can pass that money to its shareholders!

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