California Watch

No doubt about, California, whose citizens willingly pay a higher price to protect their environment, leads the U.S. in Solar PV production, sales, installation, output and ... subsidies/mandates.  This source rates it number one for rooftop solar.  As of August, 2012, its three biggest utilities met the state government's mandate that at least 20% of the electricity they sell come from renewable sources. As of the end of 2012, it had installed 1 GW of Solar power.  Click here, too.  It's angling toward grid-parity pricing, but it must grapple with layers of complex questions, which will have to addressed in other states, like how to economically blend multitudes of solar PV systems into its grid.  This late 2013 articles discusses the use of batteries to blend solar into the grid.

Here's its projected energy mix by 2020.

Money quote: 

California is home to about 20% of all solar power companies in the U.S., with more than 3,500 firms employing more than 25,000 people. The industry has roughly doubled in size since 2007.

California has tremendous untapped solar energy potential. . . . The National Renewable Energy Laboratory estimates that the state could host more than 80 GW of rooftop solar capacity - which could generate more than a third as much electricity as California uses in a year.

(Source).  It just recently passed legislation uncorking its net metering bottle and upping its goal to 33% renewable energy by 2002. (Source).  With that much investment, it will be useful to watch how that state copes with the variability problem discussed elsewhere in this web-book.  It is my hope that it succeeds, but rarely has an undertaking so propelled by politicians and their bureaucrat ever produced positive results in the mass-consumer market (can you think of any?).  That's why I have a "Boondoggle Watch" page, with a California project as a major entry, though this October, 2013 article touts its solar program a success thus far.

Lately, however, some Californians are re-examining what the state has done with Solar.  This L.A. Times article struck a chord with many: Because of non-sensical regulation, the utilities out on the West Coast actually make money running multi-billion transmission lines to its big solar farms -- a point not addressed in this rebuttal piece.  Nor this, either.  And they make that money not because the large installations make economic sense and not because the utilities therefore profit off of higher efficiencies such installations may bring (the essence of healthy capitalism).  No, they do it because they get to charge their own ratepayers a premium merely for constructing such lines. Money Quote:

Although they will pay higher rates for solar power, California's utilities are poised for huge rewards by building thousands of miles of transmission lines to far-flung solar sites.

The state allows big power companies to bill ratepayers for every dollar they plow into building transmission lines, at a guaranteed annual rate of 11% for 40 years.

[Power Plant consultant Bill] Powers estimated the cost of new transmission lines to reach remote solar and wind power plants could exceed $15 billion statewide in the next decade. Upgrading existing transmission lines would add billions more, he said.

The transmission upgrades and new lines for the Ivanpah project carry a price tag of $400 million.

"The utilities are thinking, 'How could we morph this thing into a … infrastructure boondoggle for our company?' " Powers said. "This is the answer — remote solar projects."

(Source) More on the "California Controversy" here and here, as rebutted here and here.  And just look at the fight, led by this group, that's erupted over just studying "grid configuration costs" out there.  My grid operator friend's response:

We can't know what the entire cost of an energy option is going to be - there are too many dynamic variables. The utilities want to use PV as an excuse to goldplate the grid and pass along those costs to consumers. That's not PV's fault - that's the utilities looking to make a buck. 

The solar industry needs to get out in front of these issues and start pushing for standards that will minimize the offloading of costs. That means promoting Rate Schedules that are fair and balanced.  That means building inverters that help minimize the stress PV places on the grid. I think we also need to figure out standards for appliances that help with integration. 

The US isn't going to be running into any significant off-loading of cost issues in the near term outside of Hawaii. We've seen some off-loading of costs due to programs like net-metering but the numbers aren't off the charts. I think there's a need to transfer away from things like net-metering that off-load costs but this isn't one of the higher priorities. The top priority is getting the federal incentives properly structured. That's where we're spending the big bucks. You get that out of the way and it simplifies all the problems below it.

Also... I reread the SF Gate article. They're using projections of costs several years from now as if rate schedules will maintain the same structure. First off the rate schedules will most definitely change. Second off, I doubt they deducted savings from the wholesale market against the net-metering charges. Again, I think this is an important issue but it's not a top priority.

I want to make sure all who are deciding my state's (Georgia's) fate stop, look and listen before going over the cliff there.  No surprise/hidden costs, as are surfacing with this big desert project in California.


And hey, $1 Trillion in California oil-shale revenues, in the face of the $370 Billion in debt that analysis claims, means a lot of Californians will re-think their commitment to green, versus brown, power.



May, 2013:  California now touting the world's largest Solar PV plant.

March, 2013:  A "Shared Renewables" proposal.

February, 2013:  L.A.'s FIT program takes off. 

February, 2013:  Efforts to de-privatize and thus have the state take over electric power utilities.

January, 2013:  The debate over Net Metering benefits and costs.

January, 2013:  3rd year in a row claimed reduction in carbon emissions, in part due to increased renewable power sourcing:The main factor behind the drop in emissions was a 10 million-ton decrease in emissions from electricity generation, which more than made up for increased emissions from the oil, gas, and cement industries. According to CARB, that decrease in electrical generating emissions reflects both an increase in non-carbon power generation such as wind, solar, and hydro, and a decrease in consumption.  (Source).

December, 2012: Prisons Going Solar

September, 2102 --  Will transmission line shortcomings prevent CA from reaching its 33% goal?  Click here (the State's $16 Billion deficit also cited).

A new record in PV installations for January, 2012.

July 2012:  Glowing news for "Joe Six Pack" Solar PV ownership: "Despite a rocky year for solar manufacturers and California’s struggling economy, the number of solar installations continues to soar. Installations jumped nearly 60% in 2011 from the previous year to a record 311 megawatts and just in the first quarter of this year 97 megawatts of rooftop solar have been installed."

Here are some sites to consult in discerning a way in which California might successfully (that's a value-laden term, I use it to mean "in the free market," but maybe others don't) integrate 33% renewable (hence, variable) power into its grid: 

California's Clean Energy Future                   

California Independent System Operator Corporation (ISO)“The ISO operates a robust and reliable wholesale power system that balances the need for higher transmission reliability with the need for lower costs, and acts as a key platform to achieve California’s clean energy goals.”  (Source).


California's leading the way on the debate over something called "net metering," which is explained here, here, and here.