Since 2013, California has been very proactive in experimenting with all different kinds of renewable energy technology. Within a single year period, solar power within the sunny state grew to more than double its previous size, coming second only to wind power for the title largest supplier of renewable electricity in 2014.
Based on the latest figures supplied by the U.S. federal government, California is currently sourcing 5 per cent of its energy from utility-scale solar; the renewable energy technology boasting a capacity of more than 1 megawatt.
Renewable energy technology booms within California
Still, this figure does not include solar on the residential and small-scale commercial that numbers in the hundreds of thousands that have covered the state in the past few years. Even after state incentives were dropped, the increase of solar energy continues unabated.
The extreme growth of solar power generation in just one year has been made possible due to several reasons and it should also be acknowledged that this is the first time that solar power has overcome biomass and geothermal renewable energy technology. Biomass and geothermal sources having long been considered the most dependable energy mix in California.
But more importantly, the spike in solar power production is enabling the state to balance the scale due to the loss of hydropower caused by the persistent drought that is plaguing California.
Hydropower no longer a viable option as drought continues to plague California
Power supplied by hydro resources dropped by 46 per cent in 2014 due to the extreme drought raging all over the state. The Energy Information Administration even claims that utility-scale the sun powered renewable energy technology picked up the slack by covering roughly 83 per cent of the hydropower drop.
The state has always been the dominant market for large-scale solar PV projects. In fact, California took up two-thirds of contracted renewable energy technology projects in 2012. Many of these projects have improved the total solar power generation in 2014 after they were commissioned.
Such projects included the largest solar power plant in the world, the Topaz solar farm located at the San Luis Obispo County, which has a capacity of 550 megawatts and was completed at the end of 2014. Also included are the three phases of the Ivanpah project with a total capacity of 377 megawatts.
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However, 2013 experienced a short pause in new contracts signed for large-scale solar plants. This is primarily due to the attainment of the renewable energy objectives of large investor-owned power companies.
Large-scale solar projects on the rise within the sunny state of California
But when Californian utilities realized that they could get better deals for solar power purchase agreements (PPAs) if they signed contracts before the Federal Investment Tax Credit expires in 2017, they started to make new procurements for large-scale solar projects.
As a result, California currently has approximately one half of the 14.3 gigawatts of large-scale solar projects under contract according to GTM Research.
The price of solar power also continues its downward trend. Last year, the price of large-scale solar power was between $50 and $75 per megawatt-hour. According to GTM Research analyst Cory Honeyman, this price is inside the ‘sweet spot’ of $60 to $70 per megawatt-hour.
“That makes for very competitive pricing in the state,” says Honeyman. In this regard, it is projected that California will continue its robust generation records in the coming years.