California topples record after record with solar energy programs
Last year California made impressive strides in solar energy, nearly tripling the output of its utility-scale plants in 2013 to produce a record-setting 9.9 million megawatt hours (MWh) of electricity in 2014. That was more than three times the output of the next-highest state, Arizona, and more than all other states combined. For all the records California set in 2014, however, it has been shattering them so far this year.
By early June California had already set 14 solar records, including generating 6,078 megawatts of solar energy simultaneously at noon on May 31, according to the California Independent System Operator, the nonprofit corporation that manages the state’s electricity grid. The previous record for simultaneous solar generation, also belonging to California, had only been standing for 11 days.
Records like these are expected to continue to fall with rapid succession as California expands its already meteoric solar programs. Last year more than 73 cities in Southern California installed at least one megawatt of rooftop solar capacity, according to GTM Research, a clean-tech consulting firm. Rooftop solar capacity has continued to rise even as state incentives to install solar panels have mostly ended. This private growth has helped California’s solar generation totals increase by a factor of six in the past four years.
Perhaps the most exciting aspect of California’s solar power growth is that it has plenty of room left to grow. The state’s renewable energy mandate requires that major utilities companies buy 33 percent of their retail electricity from renewable sources by 2020. While in 2013 the state’s three largest investor-owned utilities collectively owned almost 23 percent, lawmakers are already calling to extend this goal to 50 percent clean energy, which would continue to fuel the grown in solar production.
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