It has often been said that as California goes, so goes the nation. While sometimes this has meant fashions, fads, and social upheavals, it's also referred to changes in technology. This spring, the state's wind power is setting energy generation records and solar energy generation is expected to rise sharply during the second half of 2013. Arizona has also set records in energy generated from solar power. If past trends are any indication, this may be a hint of the future in other parts of the US.
In April 2013 the California Independent System Operator (ISO) announced that a record 4,196 megawatts of wind power were produced in its power grid on April 7. The ISO, which serves about 80 percent of California (the largest state by population), is the main operator of California's high-voltage network.
The California grid includes 5,899 megawatts of installed wind plant capacity. Because of routine outages, not all of that capacity was available when the latest record was set, which surpassed previous records of 4,095 megawatts on April 5 and 3,944 megawatts on March 3 this year. An hourly breakdown of the state's resources by type for April 7 can be accessed here. Wind power generated that day peaked at 6:44 p.m. when total energy generated by the state's electricity supply was 23,923 megawatts, which means that wind represented 17.5 percent of that supply.
Solar energy generation in California is expected to rise sharply during the second half of 2013, coming from utility-scale plants such as the California Valley Solar Ranch in San Luis Obispo. Here, 140 megawatts were brought online in December 2012. By December 2013, the project is expected to deliver its full capacity of 250 megawatts.
(Source: US Department of Energy/NRG Solar)
To put this in context, on the most recent record-setting day for wind power, total energy demand on the system peaked at 4:07 p.m. with 27,426 megawatts. During the preceding hour, the system got 28.8 percent of its generated power from renewables, including wind, solar, biogas, biomass, small-scale hydroelectric power, and geothermal. That's not too far off from the 33 percent set by the California Renewables Portfolio Standard (RPS) as the proportion of energy that must be generated from renewable sources by 2020. This standard, established in 2002, is one of the most aggressive renewable energy goals in the US.
During 2012, according to a report by the ISO, most of the new non-hydroelectric power generated within the ISO came from wind. Wind power represented 38 percent of overall renewable energy and 4 percent of overall system energy last year. In 2012, for the first time wind surpassed geothermal energy, which constituted 34 percent of renewables. Only one other state surpasses California's wind power output: the current record in the US is held by Texas, with 10,407 megawatts installed and a record peak of 9,481 megawatts in February 2013.
Most of the new energy capacity the ISO expects to be generated in California during 2H 2013, about 97 percent, will be from solar, according to the report. During 2012, most of the growth in renewables was due to increases in wind and solar resources. Energy from new solar and wind capacity during 2013 is expected to increase much faster than from other sources because of several projects being constructed to meet the 33 percent RPS. None of the figures for renewables generation presented by the ISO, for solar or any other source, include "behind-the-meter" generation such as rooftop solar panels.
Arizona, which is the nation's second-largest state for solar installations and has the most utility-scale solar installations, has also broken some recent records. Arizona Public Services, the state's largest electric utility, said in April that it added a record 148 megawatts of solar generation power during 2012. In 2013, the utility expects to double that amount.
During the second half of 2013, it will be interesting to see what happens with solar and wind power, as well as other renewables generation, in both states.