Solar Power Milestone in California

solar power

THINKPROGRESS — California Gov. Jerry Brown (D) recently took a shot at Secretary of Energy Rick Perry, a former Republican governor of Texas. Remarking on Perry’s view of Texas as an energy powerhouse, Brown said, “We’ve got more sun than you’ve got oil.”

Recent data shows California coming through. Recently, the state briefly generated enough solar power to meet nearly half of the state’s electricity needs, according to data from the largest grid operator in the state, California ISO.

Around midday on Friday, demand reached around 29 Gigawatts (GW), while solar was providing nearly 14 GW of generation — some 9 GW from utility-scale arrays and another 5 GW or so from rooftops and parking lot canopies around the state.

Renewables are having a big moment.

“It’s remarkable that over a third of the solar power generated in California comes from smaller rooftop systems, meaning hundreds of thousands of homeowners are reaping the economic value generated from harnessing the sun rather than the state’s big utility companies,” said Amit Ronen, director of the GW Solar Institute.

To be fair, the numbers from California ISO are a little squishy. First, California ISO may be the biggest grid operator in California, but it is not the only grid operator. Its numbers do not account for power demand or solar generation in Los Angeles or Sacramento, for instance.

Second, there is no real-time data on California’s rooftop solar generation. We know that California has about 5 GW of installed rooftop solar capacity, meaning that if every rooftop solar panel in the state pointed directly at the sun on a cloudless day, they would generate more than 5 GW. Under real-life conditions, they generate slightly less.

But while these numbers are a rough approximation, they illustrate the incredible growth of renewable energy. They also highlight the central challenge of integrating solar into the power grid.

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U.S. Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis once described the states as laboratories of democracy. They are also laboratories for energy innovation. As the federal government lurches backwards on renewable energy and climate, California and other progressive states are pushing ahead, providing a model for the rest of country.

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