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California Approaches 4 Gigawatts of Utility-Scale Solar Output

California beats solar records without even counting rooftop installations like this one in Covina | Photo:WalMart/Flickr/Creative Commons License

As the Ivanpah Solar Electric Generating System seems to slowly come online, California is setting new peaks for solar power generation. A record of just over 3,600 megawatts in peak solar power output reached on Friday seems to have already fallen.

On Friday, the state's utility-scale solar facilities contributed 24,183 megawatt-hours of power to the state's grid, according to the California Independent System Operator (CaISO). The state's peak solar output reached 3,605 megawatts, a new record.

But that record may be history, as CaISO's automatically generated renewable energy output figures for today seem to indicate that the state's wholesale solar output just edged past 3,800 megawatts for about twenty minutes starting at about 10:30 a.m.

CaISO's figures aren't official until the grid operator's staff reviews them; a more detailed record will be published on the site Tuesday.

As the German renewables wonkery site Solarserver observed, Friday also marked a record for solar thermal output in California, with a peak of 416 megawatts at around 10:00 a.m. That suggests that the Ivanpah Solar Electric Generating System may actually be starting to contribute a significant amount of electricity to the grid.

Ivanpah's Unit 2 was reported as offline on Friday when the last record was set. If the plant's operators succeed in bringing all three of its power tower units online, the state may soon leave the 4,000-megawatt milestone in the dust.

At the time of the apparent record on Monday, total power demand in the portion of the state served by CaISO was just shy of 36,500 megawatts, meaning that the state's utility-scale solar power plants were supplying more than 10 percent of the total demand.

California solar output on Monday, February 24, 2014 | Image: California Independent System Operator

As always when we cover CaISO's output records, we must offer a couple of reminders. First off, CaISO doesn't track energy produced on the consumer side, such as rooftop solar installations on homes and businesses. With more than 2,000 megawatts of client-side solar panels in the state, that means a significant undercount of the amount of solar power being used in California.

Second, our state still has a long way to go before it matches the solar totals of comparably sized economies elsewhere in the world, notably Germany, which has about 20 times the rooftop solar capacity as California.

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