For the first time, California’s utility-scale solar power production has topped 3,000 megawatts (or, if you prefer, 3 gigawatts). The California Independent System Operator tweeted that solar generation hit a record 3,048 MW.
Lets put 3,000 MW in perspective. The average coal-fired unit in the United States could generate 228 MW of power. This according to the Energy Information Administration. However, California’s solar farms were doing the work of about 13 such units.
What’s remarkable about the figure is that exactly one year earlier, the state had also set a record. This record of 1,235 MW was more than half the current record. That means that in a single year, peak utility-scale solar power production in California has risen nearly 150 percent.
What’s behind the increase?
There is the addition several big solar plants in California. All led by the 250-megawatt California Valley Solar Ranch in San Luis Obispo County. The pace of growth doesn’t figure to slow much in the foreseeable future. As big as the California Valley Solar Ranch is, it will soon be dwarfed by other larger plants. The 550-megawatt Topaz project and the 579-megawatt Solar Star Projects are under construction now.
What about the winter’s effect on solar? While the days are shorter and sometimes cloudy, if it’s sunny, the big arrays work fine. Larger systems have systems to keep track of the production. Photovoltaics work more efficiently in cool, sunny weather than in hot, sunny weather. The thin-film modules lose 10 percent of their output at very high temperatures. As a result, traditional crystalline silicon PV fares even worse. We have seen an output falling off by 20 percent.
One final point: We always need to point out that the California ISO solar production figures are for wholesale solar only. California also has nearly 2,000 MW of solar behind meters – on the roofs of businesses and homes all over the state – that isn’t included in that 3,048 MW figure.