Tag Archives: Large-scale Pv Installations

Utility-Scale Solar Surpasses Wind in California for First Time in 2015

Recent analysis from Vaisala, a global leader in environmental and industrial measurement, reveals that in 2015 energy from grid-connected, utility-scale solar plants surpassed wind for the first time in California. While this is an exciting milestone for the solar industry, the rise of solar also brings with it a demand for better forecasting information to cope with the challenges that the increase in variable generation poses to the regional energy system.

California has been a national leader in renewables since first establishing its Renewable Portfolio Standard (RPS) in 2002, and, with a 50% RPS mandate recently signed into law, it is likely to maintain its position for years to come. Today the state is still one of the largest U.S. wind markets in terms of capacity, but the exponential growth of large-scale solar in recent years has considerably altered the structure of the regional energy market.

Public records from CAISO (California Independent System Operator) indicate that over the past five years, grid-connected, utility-scale solar generation in California increased fifteen-fold. It went from a total of 1,000 GWh in 2011 to an impressive 15,592 GWh in 2015, composing 6.7% of the system total and surpassing wind for the first time, which made up 5.3% of the system total.

Read full press release from Vaisala

Too Much Solar in California? Not If You Bottle It

By Lauren Sommer, KQED

The cost of solar power has plummeted in recent years, which has led to a renewable energy boom in California.

But there’s a big hang-up: solar energy doesn’t provide a 24-hour supply. When the sun sets, the power from solar farms drops off, just as California needs it most. That’s sparked new interest in technology that stores electricity. And the energy storage technology race is going far beyond your typical battery.

Solar Peaking

“Pretty much everyday, we hit peak output,” says Michael Wheeler, a vice president at Recurrent Energy in San Francisco, looking at a screen showing the solar farms his company manages. But earlier this spring, something happened that, at first, doesn’t seem to make sense.

It was the middle of the day, when one of the solar farms was cranking out electricity, and his company got a message. There was too much electricity on the grid. The electric grid managers were telling solar farms to shut down. “The project went from almost peak output to zero for about two hours,” he says.

This happens on sunny, spring days when there is plenty of solar power but Californians aren’t using a lot of air conditioning yet, so demand for power is low. The solar and wind power comes in on top of what natural gas power plants are generating. Because renewable energy production goes up and down with passing clouds and wind conditions, grid operators say they need the continuous supply from natural gas to make up for those fluctuations.

Shutting down natural gas would leave the power supply less stable. Many gas plants can take between four and eight hours to restart, once they’re turned off. As more solar farms come online, the pressure to shut them down on mild, sunny days is only expected to become greater. California plans to get 50 percent of its electricity from renewable sources by 2030.

Read full article from KQED

Related article: What will California do with too much solar? (KQED) – April 4, 2016

A Sunny Future for Utility-Scale Solar

By John Finnigan, The Energy Collective

Utility-scale solar and distributed solar both have an important role to play in reducing greenhouse emissions, and both have made great strides in the past year.

Utility-scale solar, the focus of this article, is reaching “grid parity” (i.e., cost equivalency) with traditional generation in more areas across the country. And solar received a major boost when the federal tax incentive was recently extended through 2021. The amount of the incentive decreases over time, but the solar industry may be able to offset the lower tax incentive if costs continue to decline. New changes in policy and technology may further boost its prospects.

Some of the world’s largest solar plants came on-line in the U.S. during the past year, such as the 550-megawatt (MW) Topaz Solar plant in San Luis Obispo County, California and the 550MW Desert Sunlight plant in Desert Center, California. Last year saw a record increase in the amount of new utility-scale solar photovoltaic generation installed – about four gigawatts (GW), a whopping 38 percent increase over 2013, and enough solar power to supply electricity to 1.2 million homes. This number is expected to increase in 2015 when the final numbers are in.

Read complete article from The Energy Collective

NAS Lemoore could sign contract for mega-solar farm next month

By John Lindt, The Fresno Business Journal

The U.S. Navy has a goal to develop 1 gigawatt (1,000 MW) of renewable energy by 2020, enough power to light up 700,000 homes. Now it looks like Naval Air Station Lemoore could generate nearly 40 percent of that figure on its own.

The Kings County base is set to welcome new F-35 strike fighter jets that will be landing in what will be a sea of perhaps 1 million solar panels planted next to the runway—the largest solar plant at an airport in the world. The Navy is looking to lease out 3,000-5,000 acres of land surrounding the NAS Lemoore installation to a solar development company that would build a 390 MW solar farm, according to a solicitation. By contrast, Nellis Air Force base in Nevada is the largest solar military airport now at 15 MW on 140 acres.

The Navy studied the idea at Lemoore a few years back and more formally started the process in January. Officials decided the environmental impact of the proposed project was negligible, so now they can move forward if ongoing negotiations with a private solar firm go well.  The Navy and a private partner would enter into an agreement to allow the private partner to use Navy land to construct, operate and own the proposed solar photovoltaic system. The partner would sell the generated power to regional customers, and would be responsible for the plant’s maintenance, operation, and eventual decommissioning.

Including the infrastructure, the total construction period for the project would be approximately four years, putting it online in 2020. With more large scale solar coming to Kings County, the addition of nearly 400 megawatts of power would mean the county’s total capacity, either built or permitted, would total nearly 900 megawatts.

Read full article in the Fresno Business Journal

Could Solar Energy Be California’s Next Cash Crop?

By Christina Nunez, National Geographic

Several years ago, Nick Rajkovich bought 1,200 acres in California’s Fresno County, planning to grow almonds for his family’s farming business. The ranch had a steady supply of water at the time. But that changed with the state’s latest, relentless drought: Federal water deliveries over the past three years dwindled to zero. “Now the almonds are dead,” Rajkovich says; and with the land bone dry and no relief in sight, “The only thing we can farm is the sun. That’s why solar is the obvious choice for us.”

Rajkovich is one of many farmers in the Central Valley and elsewhere who are turning land over to solar developers, planting photovoltaic panels instead of crops. California’s punishing drought is sparking fierce debates over water allotments for agriculture, and more than 500,000 acres will lie fallow this year. At the same time, the state is fighting climate change more aggressively than ever with a new law requiring half of all electricity to come from renewable sources like solar and wind by 2030.

All of that clean energy needs real estate, and farmers have land available. Now, almost a third of California’s big solar facilities—those capable of generating one megawatt or more—stand on croplands or pastures, according to new research.

Read full article from National Geographic

California Entering Uncharted Territory On Clean Energy

By Sammy Roth, The Desert Sun

The Coachella Valley’s state Senator, Republican Jeff Stone, wrote a bill this year urging Congress to extend a 30 percent tax credit for solar energy. The bill sailed unanimously through the Senate, then passed the Assembly with just one dissenting vote. Stone’s resolution was largely symbolic. But its near-unanimous passage spoke volumes.

While national policymakers spin their wheels debating climate science, California is charging ahead to promote clean energy — with support from Democrats and Republicans alike. More than a quarter of the state’s electricity now comes from renewables, and last month lawmakers approved a 50 percent clean energy mandate.

Nowhere has California’s energy revolution been more visible than in the desert, which will host the SoCal Energy and Water Summit Sept. 30 to Oct. 1. But even with strong bipartisan support for clean energy, contentious political battles lie ahead. Already, the state’s clean energy policies have stirred impassioned debates about electricity costs, desert protection and the future of the utility industry.

Those arguments have pitted large-scale solar against rooftop solar, land conservation against clean energy, and utility companies against the world. Experts say California can achieve its 50 percent target, but there’s little agreement on the best way to do it. State officials will need to answer that complex policy question while navigating an increasingly thorny political landscape, knowing the rest of the world is watching to see what they decide.

Read full article in the Desert Sun

Renewable energy bill far from perfect, experts say

By Sammy Roth, The Desert Sun

With one week until California’s Legislature closes shop for the year, lawmakers are scrambling to pass an ambitious climate and energy plan. At stake are several top priorities for Gov. Jerry Brown: a 50 percent cut in oil use, a 50 percent increase in energy efficiency in existing buildings, and a 50 percent clean energy mandate.  Some version of the bill will almost certainly pass, despite opposition from the oil industry and centrist Democrats.

There has been little formidable opposition to the clean energy mandate, which is expected to jump-start solar and wind development in the desert and across the state. But for some clean energy experts, the bill leaves a lot to be desired. Critics say the bill doesn’t do enough to promote clean energy sources that can generate electricity around the clock, including geothermal, biomass and solar with storage. They say adding those kinds of power sources to the mix—rather than continuing to focus almost exclusively on traditional solar farms and wind turbines, which can’t provide power around the clock—is needed to keep electricity costs down for homes and businesses, while limiting the carbon pollution. Anything could change before next Friday. But for now, some critics see the bill as a missed opportunity to limit global warming while keeping electricity costs as low as possible.

Building more clean energy will almost certainly lead to higher electricity prices, but the exact costs of transitioning to clean energy are still up in the air. Under California’s current renewable energy mandate—which requires utility companies to buy the cheapest power on the market—utilities have largely opted for traditional solar and wind farms, because they have the lowest up-front costs. Clean energy sources that provide electricity around the clock—like geothermal and solar with storage—typically have higher up-front costs. SB 350 mostly leaves that system in place, but it would instruct utility regulators to consider the benefits of round-the-clock clean energy sources, such as rooftop solar with storage.

Read full article in the Desert Sun

Solar Star, Largest PV Power Plant in the World, Now Operational

By Eric Wesoff, Greentech Media

BHE Renewables’ 579 MW Solar Star project in Antelope Valley, Calif. went fully on-line on June 19th, allowing it to claim the title of the largest operational solar project on the planet. All three of the world’s largest photovoltaic solar plants are now located in California—Solar Star narrowly edges out the 550 MW Topaz Solar project in San Luis Obispo County and the 550 MW and the 550-megawatt Desert Sunlight project in Riverside for the title.

Construction started in January 2013 on the two Solar Star plants, which are sited in California’s Los Angeles and Kern counties and span more than 3,200 acres. The projects employ approximately 1.7 million SunPower monocrystalline silicon modules on single-axis trackers.

Although we may not see too many more solar projects of this size, the utility-scale solar business is alive and well. The utility segment installed 644 MW in Q1 2015, and there are 25 projects developers with pipelines of 100 MW or more, according to GTM Research’s U.S. Solar Market Insight report. GTM Research expects a flurry of activity in the utility segment over the next 18 months ahead of the scheduled decline of the federal Investment Tax Credit.

Read full article from Greentech Media

NRG Spinoff Buys Into Giant California Solar Farm

By Jordan Blum, The Houston Chronicle

A spinoff of NRG Energy is buying a 25 percent interest in the massive new Desert Sunlight Solar Farm in southern California for $285 million.

NRG, which is based out of Houston and New Jersey, formed NRG Yield in 2013 to own a mix of renewable and conventional power generation assets.

NRG Yield is buying the solar farm interest from GE Financial Services. The deal also includes the assumption of $287.4 million in project debt. The Desert Sunlight Solar Farm, which opened in February, takes up six miles of land about 50 miles from the California-Arizona border.

Read full article in the Houston Chronicle