Solar Power’s Increasing Importance in California

Investing in solar power makes so much sense, in so many ways, that it is hard to believe it is still such a small portion of our country’s overall energy consumption spending. Even in California, which leads the nation in solar and wind production, only about 25% of electricity is currently produced by clean energy sources! However, California law mandates that 50% of electricity will be produced from clean energy sources by 2030. By comparison, in a state like Kentucky, where coal is still the leading source of electricity production, only about 6% of all electricity is produced from clean energy sources! Almost 100% of that production is from hydroelectricity; both wind and solar production combined do not contribute even one per cent of Kentucky’s electricity needs!

Before we hurt our arms patting ourselves on the back here in California, however, consider the fact that a country such as Germany, despite having much less average daily sunshine than CA, produces a higher percentage of their own electricity from solar and over one third of their total electricity usage from clean energy sources on an ongoing basis already! Both Sweden and Denmark also rank in the top five countries in clean energy production, with the USA barely making it into the top 10!

In and around Los Angeles County you can see some of the world’s largest Silicon PV projects! Solar Star is a staggering 579 Mega Watts (MW) of solar produced by two, side by side, enormous projects located in the Antelope Valley, comprised jointly of over a million solar panels. Several other commercial grade solar projects are in the Mojave Desert, including the 280 MW Mojave Solar Project. Other huge projects include the 550 MW Topaz Solar Farm located in San Luis Obispo County. Another 550 MW facility, Desert Sunlight Solar Farm, also is now online in Riverside County. There are yet several other even larger planned facilities seeking regulatory approval in California, such as the 2.7 GW Westland’s Solar Park proposal.

While Los Angeles County leads the state in solar production by a significant margin, San Diego, San Bernardino, Kern, Mojave and Orange County all produce significant amounts of electricity from solar power. In 2014, California became the first state in the U.S. to generate at least 5% of its electricity from utility-scale solar plants. Utility scale solar is defined as solar installations of more than a megawatt of production.

Utility-scale solar makes up more than two-thirds of California’s solar capacity, with utility-scale solar PV making up 55% and solar thermal systems such as concentrated solar making up another 13%. Concentrated solar power systems generate solar power by using mirrors or lenses to concentrate a larger area of sunlight onto a small area of solar. Electricity is produced when the concentrated light is converted to heat and then used to power a heat engine such as a steam turbine. Distributed generation solar PV systems, often installed on rooftops of residential and commercial buildings, account for the remaining 32%.

For both utility-scale solar PV and solar thermal, California has more capacity than the rest of the country combined, with 52% and 73% of the nation’s total, respectively. All but 18 states have some utility-scale solar PV capacity, but only three states (California, Arizona, and Nevada) have utility-scale solar thermal resources, as these systems often require large, contiguous tracts of land in arid environments. Overall electricity generation in California is depicted in the following chart:

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Renewable Energy Goals in CA – The Renewables Portfolio Standard in CA was established by legislation in 2002 and then accelerated and again expanded by subsequent legislation. California’s RPS is one of the most ambitious renewable energy policies in the nation. The RPS establishes increasingly progressive renewable energy procurement targets for California’s “load serving” entities, requiring both retail sellers and local publicly owned electric utilities to increase their procurement of eligible renewable energy resources to 33 percent of retail sales by 2020 and 50 percent by 2030.

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