California installed solar capacity graphic via SEIA

California Utility-Scale Solar Energy Surpasses Wind Energy For 1st Time

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2015 saw a shift in the balance of utility-scale renewable energy power in California.

A recent report notes that utility-scale solar energy jumped past wind for the first time within the state.

Vaisala notes public records from the California Independent Systems Operations (CAISO) show California utility-scale solar energy in 2015 reached 15,592 GWh (or 6.7 % of California’s system), compared to wind energy reaching 5.3% of the state’s electricity generation. Even more impressive is that utility-scale solar energy has grown 15 times over since 2011, when it was only 1,000 GWh.

California installed solar capacity

“California’s continued commitment to renewable energy is very encouraging and creates a great deal of opportunity for the industry,” said Vaisala Global Manager of Energy Services Pascal Storck.

Variability in California’s solar market has increased thanks to advanced solar capacity, Vaisala said. This creates supply fluctuation and increased system volatility, which affects prices.

To counteract these concerns, Vaisala has come up with a localized reporting service for CAISO to meet increasing solar power within California’s grid, which will give more accurate information and reduce volatility.

Storck said other places around the world that have seen rapid solar capacity increases eventually put strain on systems. Vaisala is helping its customers prepare and respond within the market changes in sustainability and profitability, with its new localized forecasting system, which has been well received, Storck also said.

California leads in solar PV installations, as it continues to dominate the solar landscape. With the state having one of the top Renewable Portfolio Standards (RPS) of 50% by 2030, this will put further need to increase not only utility-scale solar energy, but also improved local solar forecasting to produce maximum results, as the state heads towards its clean energy goals.

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Adam Johnston

is expected to complete the Professional Development Certificate in Renewable Energy from the University of Toronto by December 2017. Adam recently completed his Social Media Certificate from Algonquin College Continuing & Online Learning. Adam also graduated from the University of Winnipeg with a three-year B.A. combined major in Economics and Rhetoric, Writing & Communications in 2011. Adam owns a part-time tax preparation business. He also recently started up Salay Consulting and Social Media services, a part-time business which provides cleantech writing, analysis, and social media services. His eventual goal is to be a cleantech policy analyst. You can follow him on Twitter @adamjohnstonwpg or check out his business

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42 thoughts on “California Utility-Scale Solar Energy Surpasses Wind Energy For 1st Time

  • California stopped expanding wind. Tehachapi is its largest source. There are vast amounts untapped on the northern coast. And there are plans to import more from wind rich Wyoming. California is blessed with much more solar than wind. It’s really not that good for onshore wind. It takes good advantage of wind in its passes, but those places are not widespread.

    • I was selling to Tehachapi 20 years ago. They definitely slowed down, and I think it was before the recession hit. We could at least power a good chunk of the bay area and Santa Rosa with on shore a little north. Not so many neighbors to complain on the coast up there north of the GG bridge?

      • Point Gualala is real windy. Some room for onshore. The jackpot? Northern California offshore. Steady, incredibly high winds. Better than any place in the Midwest and much bigger. Tech has to improve first though, and it needs a will. Somebody will wake up and use it.

        For now, there are some bids for offshore wind in mid Cal coast.

        NIMBY could kill this country. Some people would rather have a coal mine and coal plant they can’t see thats killing them than a hazy distant wind turbine that they could barely see while applying tanning lotion amidst the beach chairs and towels.

        • Water is deep so it needs floaters. But East Coast continental shelf goes out quite far – check Google Earth. So they do not have to float. The turbines can be located so they are out of site from land. Resource is not quite as good as Northern CA coast but it is still very good and covers a very long geographic extent.

          • And the loads are clo to generation, ideal for congested east coast electrical transmission. That gives them a high rate structure to enter the market hill lowering costs long term.

          • “hill lowering”? I thought that was coal in Appalachia 🙂

          • Offshore floaters are being developed in Coos Bay Oregon. Presently there are a couple (IIRC) data collecting barges anchored off the shore gathering detailed wind info.

          • Yes, its a start but a pathetically slow one. I think there is also work going on in Japan.

            It will be more expensive than onshore or sunk into the continental shelf. However, the resource is phenomenal, it is decorrelated from GP and from Eastern Seaboard so it can play an important role in improving the stability and statistical reliability of an all (or mostly) renewables grid. So if enough Americans get the memo that its a bargain compared to relocating Miami, then maybe we will A) Sink real money into development and B) Have a tiered PTC with off shore higher than onshore, and floaters higher than turbines on foundations.

            If we can afford a > $1 Trillion plane that apparently doesn’t work very well then we surely can sink $10 B into rapid development of offshore wind. BTW if US companies do it then they will be able to sell throughout the world. I.e. it buys us export markets and probably would be recouped in taxes many times over.

          • Japan has a few floaters hooked to their grid. One, IIRC, is a monster.

            Floaters may be less expensive than bottom towers. They can be built in dry dock and hauled to the site. That avoids large amounts of lost time transporting crew and parts from shore to worksite and allows work to continue when the seas are up.

            There’s a new design that uses less materials, probably less than a fixed tower. There’s no need for foundations. The rigs can be fixed in place with the same sort of anchoring systems used for floating oil rigs. There’s also no need for the specialized installation ships needed for fixed tower rigs.

      • Along the Lost Coast the wind howls. Better resource than the windy Midwest.

        And there’s almost no one there other than passing hikers to complain about the view change.

    • Wyoming wind site must be one of the best in the US lower 48:

      “Billionaire On Way To Building Largest Wind Farm In North America… And It’s Not Warren Buffett” – July 2015

      “Chokecherry and Sierra Madre Wind Energy Project (Wyoming)”

      “Wyoming State Wind Power Resource”

      • Yes. Its incredibly windy there. High altitude plains. Best in continental US as far as I could see.

          • You do have your sources don’t you? Nice graph. I am still contemplating the ramifications of such high capacity factors. With those so high, you need to slip into a different domain to get a sense of their impact. Load matching. And as you pointed out, they increase transmission value and cost also, because utilization is higher.

    • Altamont Pass wind farms are being repowered with larger/taller rigs. The net result may mean more output from that area. There are likely opportunities to do some repowering in Tehachapi as well, some of those farms must be nearing their ‘use by’ dates.

  • California should probably just concentrate on solar, they are the only state that clearly has the possibility of providing 100% of energy demand by rooftop PV alone (using 25% efficient panels) according to the recent NREL study. By focusing on PV they can blaze a path. Wind is not their mainland strong suit. Off shore has tremendous potential at the northern tip apparently but the off shore engineering structure of “floaters” is still in progress. Let others, such as the Europeans, specialize in that and in ten years, if storage hasn’t made wind irrelevant they can plop down some 50 MW turbines that have had the bugs worked out.

    • “Offshore wind floaters still a work in progress” – yes! Huge potential and, frankly, an area where R&D could work to aggressively bring the cost to competitiveness. Wind is very helpful for California’s supply because it runs much more steadily. Solar shines for about 6 hours per day leaving 18 hours to other forms.

      • I think you meant solar PV PRODUCES 6 hours per day. Solar shines 12 hours per day on average.

        That said, do note that PV tracking or multiple fixed orientations expand that 6 hours much closer to 12. For example, my 10 kW (which is split between SE and SW orientation on my roof) was producing for 13 hours yesterday, and exporting to the grid for 9.5 hours.

        • Yes, I can get a yield of 10 fold of peak rating on a Summer day at 51 degrees latitude by tracking. My original 1.6 kw pv could hit 16 kwh per day fairly often. Tracker arrays at utility scale hit 33% capacity factor averaged over the year in the South west.
          By the way, it is storage that obliterates variability. The single issue is price per kwh for storage. If we arrive at 6cents kwh then many complex plans for how to stabilize the variability of wind and solar will be irrelevant. Right now most of the preoccupation is with eliminating the need for storage, however that may turn out to be the wrong direction…more trouble than it is worth.

          • An interesting take. How about they meet in the middle and we can have our cake and eat it? 🙂 There is going to be a lot of storage no matter what we do. There will be millions of EVs connected to the grid. That just invites use.

          • The NOAA study did not find much storage in its optimized solution, IIRC

          • Can you link? Many studies with a range of storage. Some say use overcapacity. NREL posits about 10% storage. NREL futures study. Budischak, etc.

          • Have you had a brain injury? The NOAA CRIES study is less than a year old and you certainly read about it when it was released. It will also pop up with a casual google search.

          • Storage is just sprouting, look for a 50% fall in price within 3 years, and a further 30% after that. Example: Aquion are at $500 kwh, they announced their aim to cut that to $250 in a couple of years and then $160 once their factory is up and running. At $160 they come in around 8 cents kwh. You can see that 6cents kwh is screaming up in the rearview mirror.

        • When I was selling resi solar I was given the basics as 6 or 7 hours in the summer and 4 or 5 in the winter. Its awesome to find out 9 is possible.

      • Also California is nearly unique in that more wind occurs during the summer whereas the Great Plains suffer a wind reduction during the most need for power.

        • Greater amounts of Wind in the winter when northern states need more power heating.
          More Solar in summer for AC.
          Good seasonal balance on the Great Plains.

      • More steadily is dependent on what you mean by steadily. Day to day variability of wind is greater than PV, but wind is spread throughout 24hours, and often peaks at night. Offshore is a lot steadier than onshore, so that would be a plus.

    • Enough solar resource in and around the Mohave desert to meet the entire World’s power needs. Not that far from LA. They can easily power the entire state on that if they want.
      Yes! to Rooftop Solar PV = lowest environmental impact of anything.

    • We should strive for a balanced system. There is still a lot of space on the Altamont (plus old unded turbines that haven’t been removed and the area repowered). Also the area just north of the delta has good wind potential. A mixture of wind and sun will have less variability than all wind or all sun.

      • Yes, it will. However, the focus right now is “how little storage do we need?” That might double the price of wind because of transmission costs and other complexities. Just a few years ago storage was prohibitive, and still is a little pricey. But the entire picture is changing quickly and local storage in various forms: thermal, ice, batteries, pump up, etc. may prove to just be simpler and more reliable than trying to balance the two variables of wind and PV.

        The other factor in capitol letters is PV at 3cents kwh!!! Already in Mid East. Stay tuned for that in the U.S.

  • Japan is working on offshore floating turbines. Perhaps California could learn from their technology. Solar primarily rooftop solar should be mandatory in California. With Global Warming, and the polluted air in cities, it should be a law, that all rooftops that have enough sun, be required to produce as much power as they can from solar power.

    • No need. Plenty of room for Solar PV in the Mohave. Japan does not have that. Mohave has excellent Solar resource. Very few cloudy days. Look at Solar resource map.

    • Solar panels on all new construction was just mandated in San Francisco.

      • Yes, this is great, but San Francisco has many buildings in it’s districts that are not new, but could also have solar put on their roofs. Why limit it to only new construction? I would like to see a statewide policy that mandates solar be put on any roof that can sustain it, whether it be new construction, or older existing housing. With 2015 the hottest year on record, I think we have no choice, but mandate much more aggressive laws that force people who have enough sun and roof space to go solar.

  • What is missing and overlooked from the renewable energy mix is small wind. There has been great advancement in the technologies that a few certified manufactures now offer in the market place. They now offer the same abilities as large turbines. Smart, low wind, computer driven, 24/7 monitoring, variable pitch, low hydraulic towers, I can start and stop it from my cell phone. My 10 kw Osiris turbine produces 100 kwh plus days on a regular basis. In fact, last month it produced 1600 kwh’s over and above my usage in an all electric house with the heat on. These turbines are ripe for ranches, farms, and small community projects. And with the cost of realest state in California, the small foot print has many advantages. I expect to produces over 30,000 kwh’s on an annual basis. The word needs to get out that small wind is know longer a bad word. Certified, is the key word here.

    • Interesting. Thank you.

    • Nice set-up.

      • thanks, I’ve attached a DCFC public charging station to the turbine.

  • California growth in PV is a combo of high electric rates and government incentives. The only other state with that combo seems to be Hawii.

  • All is good until they kill net metering because most of the installation are grid-tie. I’ll just wait to go off grid. The people who signed those rooftop solar leases will be screwed before their lease are up. Look what happened in Las Vegas.

    California Farm Bureau-May 10, 2559 BE
    California utilities near cap for net energy metering

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