California Sets New Solar Records

Backlit steam at a solar power plant in Lancaster | Photo: Keith Skelton - California Photography Workshops/Flickr/Creative Commons License

The amount of power flowing into California's grid from large solar plants set two records this week, according to the agency that runs that grid.

On Tuesday, according to the California Independent System Operator (CaISO), the state's utility-scale solar power plants set a new record of 4,933 megawatts of power flowing into the state's power grid. That's more than twice the amount of power generated by the now-shuttered San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station at its peak.

But that record didn't last long. At 10:20 a.m. on Thursday, the state's big solar plants pumped 5,117 megawatts of power into the state's grid, bumping California's grid past the five-gigawatt solar power mark for the first time in history.


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Here's the official word from CaISO, in the form of a tweet -- since solar production records come so fast these days that it's hardly worth putting out a press release:

Of course, as we've pointed out before in discussion CaISO's solar records, the figures released by the grid operator include only those utility-scale solar plants the agency can track directly. That mean that solar plants outside its service area don't get added to the total. Neither do most rooftop or other small-scale solar arrays: they tend to be on the wrong side of California's electric meters for CaISO to be able to track their output.

The solar advocacy group Vote Solar was quick to point out that deficiency in the official numbers in a reply to CaISO's tweet:

Using Vote Solar's estimate of an additional 2.5 GW, or gigawatts,a.k.a. 2,500 megawatts, that would put the state well above 7,500 megawatts of solar power production for the day on Thursday, February 12.

Not bad, considering the sun's still pretty low in the sky, and summer's stronger sunlight should break those records even if more solar power plants aren't built in the meantime.

Of course, we can't help but kill the buzz a little bit: in December, Germany -- a country with an economy roughly the size of California's -- had 38,236 megawatts of solar power generating capacity installed. If, under Germany's gloomy winter skies on Thursday, those German solar panels put out just a quarter of the juice they're technically capable of producing, that would mean 9,500 megawatts and change flowing into Germany's grid -- still well ahead of California's record this week.

It's always good to have a bar to aim for. Thanks, Germany.

For ongoing environmental coverage in March 2017 and afterward, please visit our show Earth Focus, or browse Redefine for historic material.
KCET's award-winning environment news project Redefine ran from July 2012 through February 2017.

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