California Hits New Solar Power Record

California set a new record for solar power generation this month and nearly doubled production in less than a year

2 min read
California Hits New Solar Power Record
Illustration: Randi Klett; Images: iStockphoto

California set a new record for solar power generation earlier this month and nearly doubled its solar production in less than a year.

The California Independent System Operator (Cal ISO) announced that the state hit a record of 3,926 megawatts on March 7. The next day, it broke that record and surpassed 4 gigawatts with 4,093 MW of solar power generation. The current record is nearly double the peak production of June 2013.

“This shows that California is making remarkable progress in not only getting new resources approved and connected to the grid, but making meaningful contributions in keeping the lights on as well,” Steve Berberich, president and CEO of Cal ISO, said in a statement [PDF].

California’s total installed solar capacity is just over 5.2 GW. The state also has nearly 5.9 GW of wind resources. All renewable power, including geothermal, make up about 15 GW of Cal ISO’s generation mix. The state’s demand in early March was around 28 GW. The state has a goal of 33 percent renewable energy by 2020.

Solar is growing at a rapid pace, and not just in California. In 2013, it was the second-largest source of new generating capacity after natural gas. The price of solar also continued to fall, according to research from the Solar Energy Industries Association and GTM Research. In the fourth quarter of 2013 alone, the United States installed more than 2 GW—nearly half of the year’s total.

The large increase in California is due to large, utility-scale solar plants coming online, and does not include rooftop solar. According to SolarServer, most of the record solar production was from utility-scale photovoltaic with the rest coming from concentrated solar power (CSP). Ivanpah, the world’s largest operating CSP plant, synced to California’s grid last fall.

Outside of California, North Carolina, Massachusetts, and Georgia more than doubled their total solar capacity from 2012 to 2013. Overall, the U.S. solar market grew 41 percent in 2013, with California installing more than half of that capacity.

Illustration: Randi Klett; Images: iStockphoto

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Smokey the AI

Smart image analysis algorithms, fed by cameras carried by drones and ground vehicles, can help power companies prevent forest fires

7 min read
Smokey the AI

The 2021 Dixie Fire in northern California is suspected of being caused by Pacific Gas & Electric's equipment. The fire is the second-largest in California history.

Robyn Beck/AFP/Getty Images

The 2020 fire season in the United States was the worst in at least 70 years, with some 4 million hectares burned on the west coast alone. These West Coast fires killed at least 37 people, destroyed hundreds of structures, caused nearly US $20 billion in damage, and filled the air with smoke that threatened the health of millions of people. And this was on top of a 2018 fire season that burned more than 700,000 hectares of land in California, and a 2019-to-2020 wildfire season in Australia that torched nearly 18 million hectares.

While some of these fires started from human carelessness—or arson—far too many were sparked and spread by the electrical power infrastructure and power lines. The California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (Cal Fire) calculates that nearly 100,000 burned hectares of those 2018 California fires were the fault of the electric power infrastructure, including the devastating Camp Fire, which wiped out most of the town of Paradise. And in July of this year, Pacific Gas & Electric indicated that blown fuses on one of its utility poles may have sparked the Dixie Fire, which burned nearly 400,000 hectares.

Until these recent disasters, most people, even those living in vulnerable areas, didn't give much thought to the fire risk from the electrical infrastructure. Power companies trim trees and inspect lines on a regular—if not particularly frequent—basis.

However, the frequency of these inspections has changed little over the years, even though climate change is causing drier and hotter weather conditions that lead up to more intense wildfires. In addition, many key electrical components are beyond their shelf lives, including insulators, transformers, arrestors, and splices that are more than 40 years old. Many transmission towers, most built for a 40-year lifespan, are entering their final decade.

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