When it comes to renewable energy, California is always at the forefront. The state currently mandates that 50% of the energy consumed must come from renewable sources by 2025, and it has a renewable-energy target of 100% by 2030. In addition to these targets, many cities and counties have set their own targets, aiming to be completely powered by renewable energy sources.
Although solar power is a growing industry throughout the state, the sun provides only a fraction of the energy needed to power California’s operations. As a result, the state has had to find creative means of generating the energy it needs – and they have chosen to do so in a big way.
In 2018, California achieved a new record for the amount of energy produced by solar farms – over 3.3 trillion kWh of electricity. In an interview with the California Solar and Storage Association (Cal Solar), John Koewler, director of grid integration at the California Independent System Operator (CAISO), stated that “this past year has been incredible, as we have seen an increase of over 44 percent in solar power installations across the state.”
The record-breaking figures make sense when you consider that solar power is largely cost-free, while the infrastructure to transmit and distribute it are already in place. As a result, alternative energy providers have flocked to the state in the hope of capitalising on this growing demand. Indeed, over 70% of the state’s energy comes from alternative and renewable sources.
Solar is clearly a popular and sustainable option for California, and with good reason. Not only does it provide an environmentally friendly and sustainable source of energy, but it also generates revenue through energy generation and sale. In 2019 alone, California’s solar industry generated over $14 billion in economic activity, supporting over 111,000 jobs.
How Does Solar Work?
For those interested in learning more, solar power is a fantastic option thanks to its relative simplicity and lack of complex technology required to manufacture it. As a result, anyone can take the step towards a more sustainable future with solar electricity.
Put simply, solar power plants use large photovoltaic (PV) modules, which are responsible for converting sunlight into electricity. These PV modules are attached to a structure that is built on top of a large field. When sunlight shines on the modules, they absorb it and convert it into electric current. As a result, the electricity generated by a single solar farm can reach up to 400kW peak output, which is enough to power a small home.
Which Areas of California are Powered by Solar?
Thanks to the pioneering spirit of California, the state now has the most extensive network of rechargeable batteries in the world. When the solar energy produced by solar farms comes online, it charges these batteries, which in turn provide electricity to the local grid. As a result, millions of solar-powered devices exist throughout the state. Some of these places are well-known for their solar farms, such as Desert Hot Springs and Victorville. But others, such as Joshua Tree National Park, have yet to achieve fame, but have nonetheless become powerhouses of the solar industry.
These locations, as well as hundreds of smaller towns and counties throughout the state, rely on the annual variation in the weather patterns to generate enough solar energy to power the seasons. This ability, coupled with the fact that solar power is largely cost-free, have helped make California a hub for the renewable energy industry. According to data from the United States Energy Administration, California leads the nation in power produced by solar and wind, with 29% and 20% of the country’s total renewable-energy production respectively.
Distributed vs. Centralized Generation
Thanks to its unique geography and climate, California has been able to harness the power of the sun and create a sustainable source of energy for its residents. The most prominent feature of this power is the large amount of solar energy that it produces. But while this is certainly a bonus for the state, it also means that each town and village independently generates its own electricity. As a result, there is a risk of overload if enough people decide to adopt solar power at once.
To prevent this scenario, most communities have adopted a centralized model of electricity generation, whereby a single company provides power to multiple households and businesses within a designated area. In this way, the risk of overload is lowered and the benefits of solar power are more widely distributed.
Why Are Power Outages Common in California?
Another issue that plagues the state is power outages. These outages are frequently caused by unforeseen circumstances, such as severe weather or major disturbances on the electricity grid. When this happens, whole towns and villages become unable to power themselves and are left without electricity for significant periods of time.
In some cases, extreme weather conditions such as heat waves and heavy rains can cause a huge strain on the electrical grid. As a result, electricity providers have to scale up their infrastructure, limiting the availability of power for many.
Where Do We Go From Here?
While this article has focused on the past, it is important to remember that the future of solar in California is very bright. The construction of more power plants and the integration of more renewable energy sources into the grid is expected to continue to drive down the cost of solar electricity and make it an even more attractive option for homeowners, businesses, and local governments.
In addition, the advent of technology, such as rooftop solar PV, allows homeowners to generate their own electricity and be 100% reliant on solar power for their needs. Finally, as the cost of solar power continues to decline and more people discover the environmental and economic benefits, we can expect to see an increase in the number of communities choosing to go solar. In fact, some utilities even give rebates to people who install solar panels on their homes and businesses.
Ultimately, while the future of solar in California looks incredibly promising, it is critical that we continue to reduce our environmental impact and be more mindful of the resources we consume. To reduce our reliance on non-renewable resources and avoid outages, we must continue to embrace alternative and renewable energy sources such as solar.