Market Watch

California to Continue Dominance as Leading US State in PV Power


Projected additional solar capacity to total 7.5 gigawatts from 2010 to 2015
Blessed with abundant sunshine and a supportive political structure, California is positioned to add 7.5 gigawatts (GW) of additional installed power from photovoltaic (PV) sources during 2010 to 2015, ensur­ing that the state remains the country’s leading light in solar energy, according to new insights from the IHS iSuppli Photovoltaic Service of information and analysis provider IHS.

New installations of PV capacity in California are projected to total 967 megawatts (MW) this year, the highest increase in the country. The strong increase in solar installations reflects the push by the most populous U.S. state to derive a greater portion of energy from renewable sources, a mix that also includes wind turbines and fuel cells.

Next year, 1.2GW of additional PV capacity will be installed in California—more than the next six-highest states combined. States approaching the land size of California, like New Mexico and Arizona, are projected to add less than one-third as much PV capacity by the same time, hovering in the mid-300MW range. And outside of the Top 10 states where solar generation will be highest, combined added PV ca­pacity from the lowest 40 states will add up to just 395MW, also merely one-third of California’s capacity, IHS iSuppli data show.

California’s clean energy drive gained fresh impetus during a recent two-day conference in late July at the University of California in Los Angeles, attended by 200 researchers, academics, business leaders and politicians. There, Calif. Governor Jerry Brown reiterated the push to obtain by 2020 as much as 33 percent of energy from renewable sources, an amount equivalent to 12GW—enough to power roughly 3 million homes.

With a series of intensive solar projects under way, as much as 7.5GW in PV capacity could be added to the local power grid by 2015, more than half the state’s announced goal of achieving 12GW from all renewable sources—and with fi ve more years to spare before the 2020 deadline. What this shows is that PV in the future is likely to account for a great portion of clean energy in California. 

Given an installed PV power capacity of 900MW in 2010 that then rises to a forecast level of 8.4GW in 2015, a total of 7.5GW in power will have been added to the state in the span of five years.

 California PV Installations

California’s Natural PV Advantage
In the United States, California has one of the highest insolation levels, defined as the quantity of solar radiation energy received on a given surface area in a given time. With a score of 5.4, the Los Angeles area’s insolation rate ranks second only to the 5.96 score of Honolulu, Hawaii. Los Angeles also places higher than perennial hot-weather spots like Phoenix, Ariz., at 5.38; Las Vegas, Nev., at 5.3; and Miami, Fla., at 5.26.  

Two other areas surveyed in California likewise boast above-average insolation rates: the Bay area near San Francisco, at 5.08; and San Francisco proper, at 4.89.

Aside from an inherent natural resource in plentiful supply, California hosts a number of companies engaged in the solar business, including research and development sites that do not engage in manufactur­ing. Approximately 27 firms in the state are engaged in solar-related activities, including the production of ingots, crystalline silicon cells and modules, and thin-film cells and modules—all components that are used in manufacturing of solar panels. 

Currently, the biggest PV project within the state is the Topaz Solar farm, a 550MW power plant be­ing built by Arizona-based First Solar Inc., located in the Carrizo Plain northwest of Los Angeles. Other solar projects under way or slated to begin are the 55MW Niland Project in Imperial County;  a fi ve-year program by Pacific Gas and Electric Co. (PG&E) to develop 500MW of power in northern and central California; the Catalina Solar Project in Kern County; and a project by Southern California Edison for distributed power through commercial rooftops, IHS iSuppli data show.

Political Patronage a Plus, but State Budget Woes Could be a Challenge
Adding to California’s built-in advantages for PV power, the state has the good fortune to enjoy the backing of a highly motivated political infrastructure.

California’s continuing experience in the PV fi eld also could work to the state’s benefit, especially if it can find a way to convert its expertise into consultancy projects for other states, similar to what Germa­ny—the world’s foremost photovoltaic market and authority—is doing in Europe. At home, California is ahead of other states in the learning curve for solar-power generation, and the local state power utilities also have been helpful in setting up programs to help renewable energy efforts.

What could stand in the way of California making even greater progress are the state’s budget woes, which if left unresolved could lead to a downgrading of the state’s creditworthiness and make it more expensive for companies—including PV firms—to do business here.

Another area that needs improvement is the current system of permits required to obtain PV power. For instance, take a California consumer who has received approval to install a solar PV system. For in­stance, a consumer who discovers that a PV panel supplier has run out of stock would have to restart the application process instead of, say, simply attaching an amendment, as is the practice in the rationalized German market.

California’s PV market also could encounter resistance from the local populace—an issue under­scored by Gov. Brown at the UCLA event. With 58 counties and more than 400 cities in the state, selling the idea of renewable or solar power might run into opposition from residents for any number of rea­sons, with the potential to slow down planned rollouts or deployments.

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