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California, Texas Hit New Records for Renewables on the Grid
Photo-illustration: Randi Klett; Photo: Getty Images

California Independent System Operator (Cal ISO) announced in March that the state hit a record of 3926 megawatts (MW) of utility-scale solar energy on its system. The next day, it broke its own record with just over 4 gigawatts of solar power generation.

Now, that record has been broken again. Cal ISO recorded 4767 MW of utility-scale solar on June 1. And it’s not just one-off days that are seeing substantial growth in renewable energy on California’s grid.

During May 2014, solar made up 6 percent of Cal ISO’s total electric load for the month, three times the amount from one year earlier. During peak hours, solar was providing about 14 percent of total power in May of this year, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA). California added 2145 MW of utility-scale solar in 2013.

California is not the only state setting records with renewables. Texas recorded a new peak wind output of 10,296 MW on March 26, according to EIA. The new record was nearly 30 percent of the total electric load on Texas’s grid, which is run by the Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT). The record outstripped two other peaks that came just one week prior.

The current record will likely be surpassed again soon. Texas has more than 12 gigawatts of operational utility-scale wind capacity and has recently completed a major transmission project that allows the wind to be moved across the state to load pockets where it is needed.

The more than 5630 kilometers (3500 miles) of new transmission expansions have allowed for fewer wind curtailments in Texas, according to EIA. In 2012, hourly curtailments regularly went above 1000 megawatts, but that level of curtailment has steadily dropped in the latter half of 2013 and into 2014 as the transmission corridors were completed.

The new peaks in Texas and California come on top of a record year for renewables in 2013. Overall, the U.S. solar market grew 41 percent in 2013, with California installing more than half of that capacity. More than 60,000 MW of wind was added in 2013, according to the American Wind Energy Association, slightly edging out 2012 to make it the best year ever for wind in the US.

There is substantial room for growth for renewables in 2014 in California. The EIA noted that the utilities are less than two-thirds of the way to meeting their renewable portfolio standard of 33 percent by 2020. There is expected to be another 1728 MW of utility-scale solar in the latter half of 2014.

The Conversation (0)
This photograph shows a car with the words “We Drive Solar” on the door, connected to a charging station. A windmill can be seen in the background.

The Dutch city of Utrecht is embracing vehicle-to-grid technology, an example of which is shown here—an EV connected to a bidirectional charger. The historic Rijn en Zon windmill provides a fitting background for this scene.

We Drive Solar

Hundreds of charging stations for electric vehicles dot Utrecht’s urban landscape in the Netherlands like little electric mushrooms. Unlike those you may have grown accustomed to seeing, many of these stations don’t just charge electric cars—they can also send power from vehicle batteries to the local utility grid for use by homes and businesses.

Debates over the feasibility and value of such vehicle-to-grid technology go back decades. Those arguments are not yet settled. But big automakers like Volkswagen, Nissan, and Hyundai have moved to produce the kinds of cars that can use such bidirectional chargers—alongside similar vehicle-to-home technology, whereby your car can power your house, say, during a blackout, as promoted by Ford with its new F-150 Lightning. Given the rapid uptake of electric vehicles, many people are thinking hard about how to make the best use of all that rolling battery power.

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