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Did California Just Break Six Gigawatts of Grid Solar?

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California sunshine breaks another record | Photo: Dawn Ellner/Flickr/Creative Commons License

Don't look now, but it looks as though California might have broken another solar record, with 6,000 megawatts of solar power flowing into the state's grid for about four hours Wednesday. [Update: we didn't quite make 6,000 megawatts on Wednesday, but we did on Thursday. See the end of this story for details.]

That's according to an automatically generated graph created by the mighty computers at the California Independent System Operator (CaISO), the agency that manages most of the state's power grid. Those figures are tentative and haven't yet been checked by a CaISO human staff person, but from the graph, if the state didn't break 6,000 megawatts of solar Wednesday, we came pretty close.

CaISO only tracks solar power (and other renewables) that generate power on the utilities' side of the electric meter, so that tentative 6,000-megawatt figure doesn't include most rooftop solar setups in the state.

In fact, the California Solar Initiative counts 2,374 megawatts of residential and commercial rooftop solar installed by customers of the state's three largest utilities as of last week, and that's not including a lot of potential solar being generated by customers of public utilities such as Los Angeles' Department of Water and Power, so the actual amount of solar electricity flowing into California wires on Wednesday might be closer to 9,000 megawatts.

But even just counting the solar CaISO can track directly, today marks a fourfold increase over a solar power record we reported on just over two years ago.

We'll update this story when the vetted figures become available on Thursday. In the meantime, since we always have to harsh Californians' buzz about these ego-boosting events, we'll just mention that foggy, gloomy Germany had 38,458 megawatts' of solar installed by February of this year, and that even if that nation's dim sunshine generated just half what those panels could make here in sunny California, that's still about three times the solar power as we seem to have had flowing into our grid this week. Something to shoot for.

Incidentally, this likely record comes as CaISO and the western utility Pacificorp have started talking about joining forces, which would extend CaISO's influence over about 80 million utility customers in Oregon, Washington, Idaho, Wyoming, and Utah. Both Pacificorp and CaISO say this would allow better grid coordination, and easier sales of renewable energy across state lines -- which has been an issue in the past for out-of-state generators wanting to take advantage of California's ambitious renewable energy goals. We'll be tracking the progress of the CaISO-Pacificorp relationship.

Update: Sooooo close. But, apparently, not quite. According to CaISO's updated data for Wednesday, California's grid received more than 5,900 megawatts of utility-scale solar power from noon through 3:00 pm, with that figure peaking at 5,960 megawatts at high noon. That's 40 megawatts short of 6,000. With the sun climbing higher in the sky each day, and thus shining more strongly on fixed-mount solar panels, the state is likely to break that six-gigawatt mark within weeks, if not days. [See second update, below.] That's especially true considering the state had a smidgen more than 500 megawatts of generating capacity offline at 3:15 p.m.Wednesday.

Second update: Well, that didn't take long. Less than two hours after we first updated this piece Thursday morning, this happened:

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