My readers will forgive the delay in posting, and also that before I get to my exploration of Breakthrough Institute’s possible motives for misleading the public on the state of the solar industry, I bring some breaking news.
This last Friday, California’s utility-scale solar PV & CSP (concentrating solar power, also known as solar thermal electric) output peaked at 2.57 GW shortly before 1 PM (CAISO data here). This follows a string of records in late July and earlier in the week.
This means that utility-scale solar generation met 8.3% of demand. Later that afternoon, total utility-scale renewable energy output, including hydro, peaked at 27% of demand.
These numbers are not yet to where Germany is, where wind and solar have peaked at 60% of demand, or Italy, where renewable output has at least once met the nation’s entire electric demand. But it is substantial progress for the state.
Correction to Solar and nukes…
These new numbers, and more specifically more accurate numbers on peak demand and additional information on the role of other renewables have inspired a correction of a previous post: Solar and nukes in a California summer.
The part about nukes was correct. California is doing just fine without San Onofre, and should probably shut down Diablo Canyon as well. But the estimates of how much solar we could add need to be revised.
A basic problem is that I’m frankly not sure how much PV & CSP is installed in California. The last count by SEIA was 2.90 GW at the end of 2012, and another 408 MW in the first quarter of 2013. Since they say “solar” I’m assuming this is CSP and PV, and this total would be 3.31 GW at the end of the first quarter of 2013.
I also don’t know how much was added in the past four and a half months, as SEIA has not put out its second quarter 2013 numbers yet. Also, I am unsure how much of this is “behind-the-meter” residential and commercial PV plants. And this becomes an issue because the California ISO only measures the output of utility-scale PV and CSP.
So since this basic information is still missing, I cannot come up with an accurate estimate of how much PV and CSP we could add to get to Germany’s level. However, my earlier estimate of 7x as much is excessive, given that at the time when PV is producing the most, demand was only 31 GW, much lower than the peak of 38-45 GW.
Why are these numbers important? Because at some point, Germany and California are going to have to come up with a technical solution to integrate the high level of variable renewable energy output. This could mean one of several things, including a more active electricity trade, but if so Germany will have to trade electrons with somewhere that does not also have an excess of solar production at the same times. That would leave out Czech Republic and Italy, and soon the Low Countries may join the fold.
Most likely, it will mean electricity storage. This could be accomplished through pumped hydro in Switzerland, Austria and Southern Germany, or batteries. Germany so far has opted to subsidize small-scale battery systems to accompany residential and small commercial PV systems. This is a modest move relative to what it will eventually need if it continues to add multiple GW of PV every year.
So far, Germany is proving to be a real-world test case of how high levels of variable renewable energy can be integrated without widespread energy storage. Clearly, given the much lower level of PV penetration in California, it will be years before the state has to deal with this problem, but California is already taking steps by requiring that utilities procure energy storage.
Recently Japan, which will be the world’s second largest PV market this year, took a bold move forward with two pilot projects to total 80 MWh of batteries for energy storage, 60 MWh of which will be located on the island of Hokkaido.
This is all good news. Energy storage marks the second phase of the energy transition (Energiewende), which has come faster than anticipated.
Given that we are in mid-August, this is probably at the end of PV generation records for 2013. As predicted, California got through the summer just fine with only one nuclear power plant, following the shut-down of San Onofre. Stay tuned for another round of solar records in 2014, after some very large PV and CSP plants come online in California.