California Solar Nears 10 GW, Weary of Huge Solar Projects

Coming off the best year yet for US solar, California – the leading state, of course – is about to pass the 10 gigawatt mark.

With 20 GW installed across the US, California has half of it – powering 2.5 million homes and businesses, according to US Solar Market Insight 2014 Year in Review.

Of California’s 9.977 GW, 615 MW are residential, 307 MW are commercial and 3.395 GW are utility-scale. Together, they  represent $11.7 billion in investments.

"To put the state’s remarkable progress in context, California has 10 times more installed solar capacity than the entire nation had in 2007. We congratulate Gov. Brown, his administration, legislative leaders and the people of California for being the ‘little engine that could’ and demonstrating to America the viability, as well as the reliability, of clean, affordable solar energy," says Rhone Resch, CEO of the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA).

5% of California’s electricity is generated by solar projects larger than 1 MW, according to the US Energy Information Administration, and it is even filling in the gap left by big hydro, which fell 46% last year because of the drought. Even more remarkable, more than half of this solar has been installed since 2013.

California Please Do Not Emit

Notable developments in California last year:

  • Topaz Solar: at 550 MW of solar PV, it can power more than 160,000 homes.
  • Ivanpah: 392 MW solar tower technology
  • Mojave Solar: 250 MW concentrating parabolic trough solar project
  • Mount Signal Solar: 205 MW- world’s largest single-axis solar PV  plant
  • Campbell’s Soup’s 2.3 MW installation is among the largest corporate systems in the state, and Walgreens, Johnson & Johnson, Walmart and IKEA added large systems.
  • more than 25% of all new homes in southern California come standard with solar.

"Today, the US solar industry employs 174,000 Americans nationwide – more than tech giants Apple, Google, Facebook and Twitter combined – and pumps nearly $18 billion a year into our economy," says Resch.  "This remarkable growth is due, in large part, to smart and effective public policies, such as the solar Investment Tax Credit (ITC), Net Metering and Renewable Portfolio Standards (RPS).  By any measurement, these policies are paying huge dividends for both the economy and environment."

Read our article, California Reaches 500,000 Clean Energy Jobs This Year.

More Big Solar Projects?

More big projects are under construction, but many communities are pushing back against new ones, sending the Department of Interior back to re-visiting its plan for California.

In a unanimous vote, Inyo County’s Planning Commission, for example, wants new solar projects to be limited to 20 MW, and eliminated two environmentally sensitive areas from consideration.

Since the huge utility-scale projects were approved, solar PV prices have plummeted, making small systems more cost-effective.

California doesn’t need these out-sized projects that consume so much sensitive land. Researchers at Stanford University show that solar can meet the state’s electricity demand three to five times over by integrating it into urban and suburban areas – on rooftops and brownfields.

"Our results show we do not need to trade places of environmental value to produce renewable energy as ample land and space exists elsewhere. Additionally, developing renewable power generation in places close to where it is consumed reduces costs and loss of electricity associated with transmission," says Rebecca Hernandez, lead researcher.

Read the US Solar Market Insight 2014 Year in Review:

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