Another Solar Record Set, Renewables Power Nearly Quarter of California

California solar on a cloudy day | Photo: Steve Rider/Flickr/Creative Commons License

Yet another milestone in California's quest to go solar: the state's industrial-sized solar power producers pumped more than 4,500 megawatts into the grid around noon on Monday.

According to the California Independent System Operator (CaISO), the agency that runs the grid serving most of California, utility-scale solar power plants set a new record of 4,566 megawatts of output at 12:03 p.m. on May 19.

Around 575 megawatts of that noontime peak came from solar thermal plants, which use the sun's energy to generate steam which in turn turns turbines. The remainder came from photovoltaic panels, which convert sunlight directly into electricity.

Breakthrough in Energy Storage Announced by UC Riverside

Mihrimah Ozkan, Cengiz Ozkan and Zachary Favors in the Ozkan's lab. | Photo: UC Riverside

Supercapacitors are one of those "gee whiz" electrical power storage technologies that offer a huge amount of potential for helping make our energy consumption saner and more sustainable... someday. But a team of researchers from UC Riverside has come up with a novel molecular architecture that they say doubles the power storage capacity of commercially available supercapacitors -- today.

Unlike conventional batteries, which store electrical power by converting the electrical energy into chemical energy, supercapacitors essentially hang "extra" electrons on their molecular surface, which allows much faster charging and discharging times. (Imagine a smartphone battery that reached a full charge in a minute or two.)

But because the amount of energy present-day supercapacitors can store -- their "energy density" -- is quite limited, they're basically used mainly for things like current regulation in sensitive electronics. Heavier uses as power supplies for consumer electronics, electric cars, and even to store grid power would require radical improvement in supercapacitor energy density. And UC Riverside engineers say they've taken a potential step in that direction.

Solar Helping Keep California Cool During This Heatwave

Solar on a Covina big box store roof | Photo: Walmart/Flickr/Creative Commons License

The agency that operates the electrical power grid for most of California forecasted last week that the state was in good shape for the summer, even without the San Onofre nuclear power plant and with drought making significantly lower output from hydroelectric stations. This week seems to be underscoring that confidence.

Warm temperatures mean greater demand for power in California as people reach for their air conditioning, and the California Independent System Operator (CaISO) is charged with making sure there's enough electrical power to meet that heightened demand. This year, the state's record drought means the prospects for hydro power in the state are well below average, and Southern California's grid still struggles to make up the more than two gigawatts of supply lost when the San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station went offline.

But if CaISO's grid stats for Wednesday afternoon are any indication, last week's forecast wasn't far from the mark. With a heat wave hitting much of the state and pushing statewide power demand toward an unseasonable 40,000 megawatts, the grid seems to have plenty of juice to spare -- and more than ten percent of the afternoon's demand is being met by solar.

Rooftop Bling: Forever 21 HQ to Be Dressed in Solar Power

Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti ceremoniously helped install the first solar panel today on what the city is heralding as the largest single-rooftop solar power system in Los Angeles County.

The planned 5.1-megawatt solar power system being installed on the rooftop of fashion retailer Forever 21's headquarters in Lincoln Heights is the first to take advantage of two LADWP solar incentive programs on one site.

The Feed-in Tariff (FiT) Program and the Solar Incentive Program provide monetary incentives to LADWP customers who install their own solar panels and allow those customers to sell excess power back to the grid, according to LADWP General Manager Marcie Edwards.

In Bay Area, Obama Announces New Solar, Conservation Programs

Obama schmoozes at Walmart after his speech | Screen capture: White House

In Mountain View today, President Barack Obama announced a set of new executive actions the White House will be taking to promote the domestic solar industry and energy conservation programs. The actions include spending an additional $2 billion to make federal buildings more energy-efficient, and providing funding for solar job training programs at community colleges across the country.

The initiatives come in the form of executive actions, said the President, due to Congressional intransigence on energy and climate matters. "Unfortunately Congress has not always been as visionary on these issues as we would like," said Obama. "In Washington, we still have a bunch of climate deniers who shout loud, but they're wasting everybody's time in a settled debate."

The announcement was made in a Walmart store in Mountain View. Walmart, which has installed more rooftop solar than any other big-box retailer, is pledging to double its solar installations, though that isn't sparing it from criticism from environmental groups.

Inyo County Backs Down on Big Solar

A gorgeous day in the Owens Valley | Photo: Elaine with grey cats/Flickr/Creative Commons License

Inyo County's Board of Supervisors has made a whole lot of people who love the Owens Valley very happy, as it's agreed to remove a large swath of the valley from designation as suitable for large-scale renewable energy development.

The move, made formal in a May 6 vote on an amendment to the County's General Plan that proposed large Renewable Energy Development Areas (REDA), was applauded by locals who've flooded the County with comments in recent months.

The Owens Valley REDA, which would have covered more than 90 square miles of the Valley floor from Independence to well south of Lone Pine, has been especially controversial in that it would have occupied the scenic core of the eastern Sierra Nevada near the foot of Mount Whitney.

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