California hits 5% solar, offsets hydro losses due to drought


California has become the first state in the U.S. to rely on solar energy for more than 5% of its electricity, the federal government’s Energy Information Administration (EIA) reported yesterday.

According to EIA, photovoltaic and concentrating solar power plants greater than 1 MW in capacity generated a record 9.9 million MWh in 2014, boosting solar production to more than 5% of California’s wholesale electric generation, compared to just 1.9% in 2013.

The report does not include most rooftop arrays in the state or other distributed solar projects less than 1 MW, which totaled approximately 2.3 GW at the end of 2014, according to the California Public Utilities Commission.

EIA noted that California’s big rise in solar production came in the same year that severe drought conditions depleted the state’s hydroelectric reservoirs and caused hydropower generation to drop 46% compared to the previous five-year average.

“Although solar is only available at certain times of the day, the annual increase in California’s solar generation in 2014 offset 83% of the decrease in hydroelectric generation,” according to EIA.

While the Golden State leads the U.S. in solar, the Silver State, Nevada, is tied for second with Arizona at 2.8%. Solar generation remains below 1% of grid power nationwide.

However, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) last week reported that solar power capacity on the wholesale transmission grid for the first time went over 1% of total installed capacity, with nearly 12 GW. FERC’s data also does not include distributed solar installations that provide on-site power.