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Solar Energy Usage Shattering Records in California as New Capacity Comes On-Line

California is setting records for solar energy usage so fast that the state’s grid operator has had to change its protocol for announcing them.

The instantaneous use of solar by the California Independent System Operator (the ISO) reached a record peak of 4,143 megawatts at 2:28 p.m. on March 16. It was enough electricity to power over 3 million homes, according to the ISO.

The new record supplanted preceding records set on March 8, 14, and 15. It is primarily the result of new capacity coming on-line, according to California ISO Senior Public Information Officer Steven Greenlee. That includes BrightSource Energy’s 392-megawatt Ivanpah CSP project, as well as the 1,900-plus megawatts of new utility-scale PV GTM Research’s 2013 U.S. Solar Market Insight report noted was installed by the state in 2013.

New records are coming so quickly California’s grid operator has decided to change its policy on announcements, Greenlee said. The ISO will now only announce 500-megawatt advances of the record instead of announcing 50-megawatt increments.

The record-breaking 4,143-megawatt instantaneous solar peak March 16 was almost twice the 2,071 megawatts that set the record just nine months ago, on June 7, 2013.

There are 5,231 megawatts of installed solar capacity available to California’s grid operator. Both this figure and the record production do not include the almost 1,100 megawatts of California’s rooftop solar capacity.

The hourly average peak on March 16 from utility-scale PV installations was 3,637 megawatts at 1:26 p.m., and the solar thermal hourly average peak from concentrating solar power plants was 563 megawatts at 3:49 p.m.

On March 16, the ISO also drew on a peak of 2,696 megawatts of the state’s 5,890 megawatts of installed wind capacity at 11:58 p.m., as well as peaks of 903 megawatts of geothermal at 7:28 a.m., 201 megawatts of biogas at 12:58 p.m., 368 megawatts of biomass at 4:30 p.m., and 246 megawatts of small hydro at 7:38 p.m.

This production from ISO renewable resources does not readily correlate to the mandated requirement on California’s utilities to obtain 33 percent of their retail sales from renewables by 2020, Greenlee said. But it does show how the ISO could call on various renewable resources throughout the day to get 88,525 megawatt-hours of the state’s 535,556 megawatt-hours of total 24-hour system demand from renewables.

That is over 16.5 percent of California’s total March 16 demand, and it demonstrates that the state’s electricity transmission system is ready to handle the rapidly increasing levels of renewable energy, Greenlee acknowledged.

California’s wind resource typically rises in the spring, and longer days will likely add to the available solar, Greenlee said, so even higher levels of total megawatt-hours from renewables could be coming soon.

The ISO has been working aggressively to prepare the state’s grid to manage the amount of renewables-generated electricity that will come from the 2020 mandate and is “on track,” Greenlee said. That includes “comprehensive planning efforts to make sure the transmission network is ready to carry the energy from new renewable resources, as well as reforming our interconnection studies and transmission planning processes to give renewable developers more certainty,” he added.

The ISO has also added advanced solar and wind forecasting and an array of demand response resources, and has expanded its market network into balancing authorities in the Pacific Northwest and other parts of the desert Southwest.

One of the ISO’s major concerns is the duck curve that shows how rapidly the amount of renewables available to meet demand can change. It also shows that there could be as much as a 13,000-megawatt ramp in demand at the evening peak, just when the sun sets, Greenlee said. “With higher levels of variable generation, there is an increasing need for flexible technologies like energy storage and rapid ramp natural gas plants.”

And, as solar power plant builder BrightSource Energy’s Joe Desmond recently pointed out, “Governor Brown said the 33 percent mandate was a floor, not a ceiling.”

greentech mediaGreentech Media (GTM) produces industry-leading news, research, and conferences in the business-to-business greentech market. Our coverage areas include solar, smart grid, energy efficiency, wind, and other non-incumbent energy markets. For more information, visit: greentechmedia.com , follow us on twitter: @greentechmedia, or like us on Facebook: facebook.com/greentechmedia.

Herman Trabish's picture

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Keith Pickering's picture
Keith Pickering on Mar 22, 2014

Telling quote:

 “With higher levels of variable generation, there is an increasing need for flexible technologies like energy storage and rapid ramp natural gas plants.”

In other words, you cannot get to zero-fossil using renewables.

Hops Gegangen's picture
Hops Gegangen on Mar 22, 2014

 

It is possible to generate methane from renewable resources rather than fossil resources.

 

douglas card's picture
douglas card on Mar 23, 2014

In other words, you cannot get to zero-fossil using renewables.”

There are no words in this article or any other that suggest what you say.  Whether or not it is possible is not even known at this point, since it won’t happen for at least 20 to 30 years anyway.

Paul Ebert's picture
Paul Ebert on Mar 23, 2014

I suppose that’s true, but would such a process be zero carbon as far as the atmosphere and oceans are concerned?  Even if it was, it requires a considerable overdeployment to create this methane.  Doesn’t seem likely to be cost effective to me.

Paul Ebert's picture
Paul Ebert on Mar 23, 2014

OK, how about “without a considerable breakthrough in energy storage such that renewables with energy storage are cost effective, you cannot get to zero-fossil using renewables”?

Unfortunately, we can’t just sit and wait to see how it’s going to play out.  We urgently need to make pragmatic, science and risk based choices on how we’re going to face our challenge.

If that breakthrough occurs, fantastic.  But we can’t bet the planet on it doing so.

Donald Osborn's picture
Donald Osborn on Mar 24, 2014

Good article. Two major points.

1) re: Duck Curve. What is missed in this view is that due to solar & wind, the peak that would have been is very much down and that the new peak, besides being shifted, is much lower that the old.

2) The problem now is NOT how to do 100% renewables but how to greatly REDUCE fossil fuel as quickly as possible. 100% is somewhat of a strawman.

Michael Keller's picture
Michael Keller on Mar 28, 2014

Conspicuously absent is any mention of how much all this unneeded expensive power has cost consumers in California and the state’s economy, which is a basket case. All this as a hysterical overreaction to deeply flawed climate models that are at deeply at odds with the actual conditions on the planet.

The wizards-of-smart should try doing a calculation on the land area required to replace all non-renewable power with solar. 100% renewable is just plain profoundly dumb – unless of course California continues on its trajectory towards a 3rd world economy, in which case intermittent and meager supplies of energy work just fine.

Robert Bernal's picture
Robert Bernal on Mar 30, 2014

How did that happen (double post) ?

Robert Bernal's picture
Robert Bernal on Mar 30, 2014

A few years ago, I wanted the exponential growth of renewables, knowing that at some point, there would “finally” actually be a need for storage… cheap storage along with machine mass produced solar, in which case there would finally be a non subsidized market for such. I wanted CSP, you know, with all that molten salt storage to absorb the vast overbuild of cheap mirrors needed in order to replace hydrocarbons… but China’s cheap PV tsunami blew that away, and guaranteed more NG, as this article doesn’t seem to want to spit out (concerning that fat duck). Now, renewables could never past max grid…

Unless the fight for nuclear prevails. Yes, only an informed populace could ever get good ole CSP (and nuclear) back on track! Because CSP is the only renewable with the potential to power a planetary civilization all by itself (like nuclear).

Closed cycle (and molten salt) nuclear was blown away by hydrocarbon profits which ushered in the age of mindless fossil fueled depletion into an over heated biosphere.

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