Monday, March 27, 2006

California: Solar potential and current sources for our electricity generation

Hey solarDwellers:

A little while back I promised to post what percentage of California's electricity is generated by what source. So, from the California Energy Commission:
California Gross System Power(Electricity) for 2004
Natural Gas. . . . . . . . . . .40.8%
Coal . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .21.3%
Hydro. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .14.9%
Nuclear. . . . . . . . . . . . . . .12.8%
Renewables . . . . . . . . . . .10.2%
(Biom 2%,Geothermal 4.8%,Small hydro 1.6%,Solar .3%,Wind 1.5%)

Look at that! Under renewables, solar is sitting there at a miniscule .3% of the total! And you can see why our electricity bills will keep going up: 40% from Natural Gas, which has been notorious with supply problems and price spikes. It's almost embarrassing for the amount of solar resource California has(see below). Luckily, the goal is to grow that by increasing demand while lowering solar prices with the California Solar Initiative, the $3 billion, 10-year funding passed by the Energy Commission this past January! Also, California has passed a more aggressive "Renewable Portfolio Standard", which just means increasing the amount of electricity that is created by renewables:
Renewables currently generate 11% of the state’s electricity, and the Renewable Portfolio Standard established in 2002 requires power suppliers to procure at least 1% of their electricity from green power resources in a goal of achieving a 20% renewable mix by 2017. The state Energy Commission, Public Utilities Commission and Power Authority recently approved the Energy Action Plan to accelerate that 20% target date to 2010. (Taken from this website)
To put it in context, the goal of the "CSI" is to help develop 3,000 MW of electricity, which would bring solar up to about 2%(max) of total electricity in California, which doesn't sound like much. But that's about 6 times today's .3%, and more solar is more solar!

California Solar Potential
My eyes almost popped out when I saw the following stats from a report entitled "California Solar Resources" from the California Energy Commission, via an article on Global Energy Network Institute website:

*California has 17 million megawatts of solar potential! To put this in context, remember the 10-year goal is 3,000 MW for California, and today California has about only 400 MW of solar installed.

Too-good-to-be-true caveat . . .The report says that huge "potential" is unrealistic: you would have to basically construct every building/house with solar, and put up solar structures/carports and large utility sized concentrating solar plants on ALL the rest of California's developable land. It also would require solar to come WAY down in price(which really might not happen until the next 15-20 years)to build on such a scale. The point is, the potential is HUGE at the right price, and the real near-term potential is much BIGGER than today's 400 MW of solar, just .3% of our electricity.

For the nearer term, the report concludes a possible total still much larger than the 3,000 MW contemplated under the California Solar Initiative, if not 17 million MW:
If PV is developed in the nearer term only as residential and commercial rooftop systems, the technical potential is still in excess of 75,000 MW of capacity. While not treated in this white paper, the actual amount of PV to be developed in California will be largely determined by economics and the special benefits that PV systems may provide to communities.

Well, at least we know we can think big and that lack of sun is not the problem for California! Let's see if we can get to the 3,000 MW in ten years, and shoot much higher when the price of solar should be much lower by that point.

--the solarDweller
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