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Solar power in California

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Solar power in California

Part of the 354 MW SEGS solar complex in northern San Bernardino County, California.
Photovoltaic (foreground) and Solar water heating (rear) panels located on rooftops in Berkeley, California. Note the low tilt of the photovoltaic panels, optimized for summer, and the high tilt of the water heating panels, optimized for winter.

Solar power in California has been growing rapidly because of high insolation, community support, declining solar costs, and a Renewable Portfolio Standard which requires that 25% of California's electricity come from renewable resources by 2016, and 33% by 2020.[1] Much of this is expected to come from solar power.

As of the end of 2013, California had 490 MW of concentrated solar power and 5,183 MW of photovoltaics capacity in operation.[2] The American Solar Energy Industries Association reports that a further 19,200 MW of utility-scale solar projects are under construction or development in the state as of August 2014.[3]

The largest solar power installation in the world was the 354 MW solar thermal SEGS plant, completed in 1991. The Ivanpah Solar Electric Generating System (392 MW), located 40 miles (60 km) southwest of Las Vegas, recently overtook it.

California leads the nation in the number of homes which have solar panels installed, totaling over 230,000.[4] Many were installed because of the Million Solar Roof Initiative.[5]

Solar thermal power

Parabolic reflector for the SEGS power plant

The Ivanpah Solar Electric Generating System (392 MW), located 40 miles (60 km) southwest of Las Vegas, is the world's largest solar thermal power project.[6] The project is developed by BrightSource Energy and Bechtel.[7] The project has received a $1.375 billion loan guarantee from the United States Department of Energy. It deploys 347,000 heliostat mirrors focusing solar energy on boilers located on centralized solar power towers.[6]

Until the completion of Ivanpah, the largest solar power installation in the world was the 354 MW solar thermal SEGS plant, completed in 1991. From 1985 until 2010 more than half of all the electricity generated each year by solar power in the United States came from the SEGS plant.[8]

The Genesis Solar Energy Project is an operational 250 MW solar thermal power station located in Riverside County, California. It is of parabolic trough design, and the company involved is NextEra Energy Resources.[9]


In 2011, California's goal to install 3,000 MW by 2016 was expanded to 12,000 MW by 2020.[10] California has more photovoltaics installed than any other state, and 48% of the total in 2010. For the first time in 2008 the installed photovoltaics exceeded the state's 354 MW of solar thermal (CSP).[11][12][13] While most of the installed photovoltaics is on rooftops in 2012, the 57.7 MW Avenal Solar Facility is California's largest operating photovoltaic power plant,[14] and there are plans to build over 15,000 MW of utility scale photovoltaic plants in California.[15] At the end of 2012, small systems of less than 10 kWp were averaging $5.39/W, and large systems of over 500 kWp were averaging $2.77/W.[16]

California has the technical potential to install 76,000 MW of rooftop solar panels, which would generate 106,411 GWh/year, about 41% of the total electricity used in California in 2012. 76 GW, though, is twice as much electricity that is used in one hour, which will require that on a sunny day, half of the noon output will need to be stored, for example by producing hydrogen.[17]

Source: NREL[18]

Under construction

The Desert Sunlight Solar Farm is a 550 MW solar power plant under construction in Riverside County, California, that will use thin-film solar photovoltaic modules made by First Solar.[19] The Topaz Solar Farm is a 550 MW photovoltaic power plant, being built in San Luis Obispo County, California.[20] The Blythe Solar Power Project is a planned 485 MW photovoltaic power station in Riverside County, California.


Imperial Valley Solar Project is a 99 MW power station, located in Imperial County, California.

The California Valley Solar Ranch (CVSR) is a 250 MW solar photovoltaic power plant, built by SunPower in the Carrizo Plain, northeast of California Valley.[21]

2012 priority projects

In 2012, the Bureau of Land Management is giving priority status to 5 solar project proposals in California.[22] The 750 MW McCoy Solar Energy Project has been proposed by NextEra. The 100 MW Desert Harvest project has been proposed by enXco. The 664 MW Calico Solar Energy Project has been redesigned by K Power but later abandoned.[23] The 600 MW Mount Signal Solar Farm #1 was also proposed but was constructed as a 206MW farm.[22][24]

Public opinion

The majority of Californians in desert country support large-scale solar development, according to a 2012 survey conducted on behalf of BrightSource Energy. The survey of more than 1,000 people was conducted throughout Imperial, Inyo, Kern, Riverside, San Bernardino counties in California, where many utility-scale solar projects are underway or planned. Survey results showed that nearly four out of five (almost 80 percent) of people strongly supported development of solar power in their communities. The survey also found that the majority of people were concerned with climate change. It also found that two-thirds of respondents think renewable energy is important to California’s future and that the state and federal government should help provide incentives for renewable energy projects.[25]

Renewable Portfolio Standard

Solar power in California has been growing rapidly, because of a Renewable Portfolio Standard which requires that 20% of California's electricity come from renewable resources by 2010, and 33% by 2020. Much of this is expected to come from solar power.

According to a recent report by the California Public Utilities Commission, California failed to meet the 20% renewables by 2010 target. Pacific Gas & Electric and Southern California Edison were the closest to meeting the goal. PG&E generated 17.7% of the electricity it sold in 2010 from renewable sources while SCE was the closest to hitting the RPS goal by producing 19.4% of its electricity from renewable sources in 2010. San Diego Gas & Electric, on the other hand, generated only 11.9% of its electricity from renewable sources in 2010.[26]

As of July 2014, California had 7,808 MW[27] of solar and 5,830 MW[28] of wind farms. California adopted feed-in tariffs, a tool similar to what Europe has been using, to encourage the solar power industry. Proposals were raised aiming to create a small-scale solar market in California that brings the benefits of the German market, such as distributed generation, which avoids the need for transmission because power is generated close to where it is used, and avoid the drawbacks such as excessively high payments that could become a burden on utility customers.[29]

California Solar Initiative

The California Solar Initiative is a 2006 initiative to install 3,000 MW of additional solar power by 2016. Included in it is the Million Solar Roof Initiative.[30] In 2011, this goal was expanded to 12,000 MW by 2020.[31]

According to the CPUC, homeowners, businesses, and local governments installed 158 MW of solar photovoltaics (PV) in 2008, doubling the 78 MW installed in 2007, giving California a cumulative total of 441 MW of distributed solar PV systems, the highest in the country.[32] As of October, 2014, 2,302 MW have been installed in 243,725 projects. The average cost of systems <10 kW is $5.56/watt and $5.06/watt for systems over 10 kW.[33]

Many of the homes, schools and businesses which have installed solar panels can be monitored online on the Internet.[34]


California solar electric generation:[35][36][37]

Year Generation
(% of total)
2010 769 0.38%
2011 874 0.44%
2012 1,382 0.69%
2013 3,865 1.93%
2014-09 YTD 7,832 5.22%

Net metering

California has a favorable net metering law, being one of five states to receive an A in 2007, while five states received an F, in an evaluation of the 38 states plus Washington D.C. with net metering.[38] IREC best practices, based on experience, recommends no limits to net metering, individual or aggregate, and perpetual roll over of kWh credits.[39] As California is rapidly approaching the 5% aggregate limit, a May 24, 2012 ruling by the CPUC clarified the calculation of the limit, and requested a report on the cost of net metering.[40][41] Typically states have raised or eliminated their aggregate limits before they were reached.[42] By 2011, 16 states including California received an A for net metering.[43]


California governor Jerry Brown signed a stream-lined permitting bill (AB 2188) for residential solar systems on September 22, 2014. AB 2188 has four major provisions designed to reduce red-tape associated with local solar permits and requires that, by the end of September 2015, all California cities and counties must "adopt an ordinance that creates an expedited, streamlined permitting process for residential rooftop solar energy systems of less than 10 kilowatts in size."[44] Research and industry reports project the bill could reduce the cost of installing a typical residential solar system in the state by over $1,000.[45]

Alameda County

Using a 20-year property assessment known as PACE financing, Berkeley had a successful pilot program from 2008 to 2009 as the first city in the country to allow residents to obtain solar power without any initial payment. In the plan, property owners paid as much in increased property taxes as they save in energy costs, allowing them to install the panels for free at no cost to the city. Thirty eight projects are being installed for the pilot stage of the program.[46] PACE financing has spread to 28 states, but is on hold in many due to objections by Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae, including in Berkeley (which has not continued the pilot as a result). Legislation has been introduced to require acceptance of PACE financing.[47]

City of Los Angeles

The City of Los Angeles Department of Water and Power initiated a program on January 11, 2013 to pay up to 17 cents/kWh for electricity generated by up to 100 MW of solar power in a feed-in tariff program. 20 MW is reserved for small projects of less than 150 kW each. The program could be expanded to 150 MW in March.[48][49]

Year Available
2013 40 MW
2014 40 MW
2015 20 MW
Tier Available Small systems Feed in tariff
1 10 MW 2 MW 17 cents/kWh
2 25 MW 5 MW 16 cents/kWh
3 50 MW 10 MW 15 cents/kWh
4 75 MW 15 MW 14 cents/kWh
5 100 MW 20 MW 13 cents/kWh

New homes

In March 2013, Lancaster, California became the first U.S. city to mandate the inclusion of solar panels on new homes, requiring that "every new housing development must average 1 kilowatt per house."[50]

In May 2013, Sebastopol followed suit, requiring new buildings include either 2 W/sq ft (21.7 W/m2) of insulated building space of photovoltaics, or enough to provide 75% of the expected annual electricity use.[51]

See also


  1. ^ "California: Renewables Portfolio Standard". Database of State Incentives for Renewables & Efficiency. 2014-06-25. Retrieved 2014-07-21. 
  2. ^ Sherwood, Larry (July 2014). "U.S. Solar Market Trends 2013". Interstate Renewable Energy Council (IREC). Retrieved 2014-07-21. 
  3. ^ "Major Solar Projects List: Fact Sheet". Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA). August 15, 2014. Retrieved 2014-08-29. 
  4. ^ Evan Halper (2014-08-09). "Rules prevent solar panels in many states with abundant sunlight". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 2014-08-30. 
  5. ^ Million Solar Roofs Initiative
  6. ^ a b Todd Woody. In California’s Mojave Desert, Solar-Thermal Projects Take Off Yale Environment 360, 27 October 2010.
  7. ^ "Solar energy plant in California gets new partner in NRG". Power Engineering International ( 
  8. ^ Electric Power Monthly
  9. ^ Another Huge Solar Plant Goes Online in California's Desert, Chris Clarke, REWIRE, May 5, 2014
  10. ^ 12,000 MW of Renewable Distributed Generation by 2020
  11. ^ California Solar Photovoltaic Statistics & Data retrieved 01 March 2009
  12. ^ Solar Market Trends
  13. ^ NREL
  14. ^ California's Largest Solar PV Farm Online
  15. ^ Major Projects List
  16. ^ Cost by Quarter
  17. ^ U.S. Renewable Energy Technical Potentials
  18. ^ "PV Watts". NREL. Retrieved 11 June 2012. 
  19. ^ "DOE Closes on Four Major Solar Projects". Renewable Energy World. 30 September 2011. 
  20. ^ Steve Leone (7 December 2011). "Billionaire Buffett Bets on Solar Energy". Renewable Energy World. 
  21. ^
  22. ^ a b Bureau of Land Management (November 22, 2011). "2012 Renewable Energy Priority Projects". 
  23. ^ K Road Gives Up on Calico Solar Project,, James Montgomery, July 01, 2013
  24. ^ Mount Signal Solar Is Online: World's Largest Single Axis Solar PV Project,, 05/23/2014
  25. ^ Chris Meehan (Feb 20, 2012). "New survey finds most in California desert support solar". Clean Energy Authority. 
  26. ^ California Utilities Do Not Meet 2010 Renewable Energy Goal
  27. ^ Retrieved 2014-11-02. 
  28. ^ "U.S. Wind Industry Report".  
  29. ^ "California Eyes Euro-Style Market For Solar". Dow Jones Newswires. October 6, 2009. 
  30. ^ The California Solar Initiative
  31. ^ The eBay of Electricity
  32. ^ CPUC Press Release
  33. ^ California Solar Statistics
  34. ^ Live monitoring
  35. ^ "Electric Power Monthly with Data for December 2011". U.S. Energy Information Administration. February 2012. Retrieved 2014-07-16. 
  36. ^ "Electric Power Monthly with Data for December 2013". U.S. Energy Information Administration. February 2014. Retrieved 2014-07-16. 
  37. ^ "Electric Power Monthly - Data for August 2014". U.S. Energy Information Administration. November 25, 2014. Retrieved 2014-11-25. 
  38. ^ Report: States Falling Short on Interconnection and Net Metering
  39. ^ Net Metering and Interconnection Procedures Incorporating Best Practices
  40. ^ CPUC unanimously approves net metering expansion in California
  41. ^ Decision Regarding Calculation of the Net Energy Metering Cap
  42. ^ 2011 Updates and Trends
  43. ^ Freeing the Grid
  44. ^ Eric Wesoff (2014-09-22). "New California Law Cuts Solar-Permitting Red Tape". GreenTech Media. Retrieved 2014-09-23. 
  45. ^ Chad Garland (2014-08-23). "Assembly bill could lower cost of residential solar in California". The Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 2014-09-23. 
  46. ^ Berkeley FIRST retrieved 4 February 2009
  47. ^ Property Assessed Clean Energy Financing (PACE)
  48. ^ Los Angeles DWP unveils solar power buyback program
  49. ^ Solar Feed-in Tariff (FiT) Program
  50. ^ "Lancaster, CA, Becomes First US City to Require Solar". Greentech Media. March 27, 2013. 
  51. ^ California town of Sebastopol will require solar panels on all new homes

External links

  • Go Solar California
  • California Energy Commission
  • California Solar Energy Industries Association
  • Northern California Solar Energy Association
  • Solar California
  • Renewables Portfolio Standard
  • California's Renewable Energy Law Lives!
  • Clean Power Estimator (California only)
  • California daily hourly power production
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