This month, California hit an all-time record high for solar power generation. June 8, 2012 saw the production of 849 megawatts of energy from solar sources in California. As the days got longer in June, California's solar power continued to break records.
California's new peak solar power generation sets the tone for a month that has been particularly good for solar. The U.S. saw the installation of 506 megawatts of solar power in Q1 2012, a record high for any first quarter and one that pales only in comparison to the 708 megawatts installed in 2011 in Q4 2011. According to a new report from SEIA and GTM Research, American solar expansion will be largely driven by utility-scale installations. Greentech Media reports:
2012 has the makings of yet another banner year with an increased forecast for 2012 of 3.2 gigawatts. The U.S. market grew 109 percent from 2010 to 2011 and will grow another 75 percent from 2011 to 2012.
The solar boom extends beyond California. New Jersey was actually the largest solar market in Q1 2012, representing 174 megawatts of the newly completed projects. GigaOM reports that several projects are being constructed faster than previously anticipated, and certain utilities like PG&E are finding it economically beneficial to invest in solar power. This, combined with an overall drop in solar panel prices, has led to a greater rate of installation across the board. GigaOM reports:
The commercial sector in California may see even stronger growth yet. Starting in November this year, small and medium businesses served by PG&E will be put on rate plans in which they will have to pay higher rates if they use electricity during hours of peak demand. The same classes of customers in Southern California Edison’s territory could begin doing the same in October this year while San Diego Gas & Electric is looking at a March 2013 startup time, the California Public Utilities Commission said Tuesday. Throughout the state, many large commercial, industrial and agricultural customers already are enrolled in such time-of-use plans.
The New York Times Sunday Magazine ran a story this month on the construction of BrightSource Energy's Ivanpah solar thermal plant. The piece features absolutely stunning photographs of the construction of what is to be the world's largest solar thermal plant.
Individual solar manufacturers are also increasing the performance standards for their solar projects. First Solar (whose chairman, Michael Ahearn is on AEE's Board of Directors) is working with Intermolecular to raise the efficiency of their thin-cell, cadmium telluride panels. Intermolecular uses "combinatorial experiment technology" and has roots in the biotech industry. In January, First Solar hit a world record for CdTe PV module efficiency with 14.4% "total area efficiency." With the new partnership, First Solar hopes to accelerate the rate that their panels are increasing efficiency, which currently stands at roughly 0.1% per quarter.
In a final demonstration of the industry's overall progress, Southern Energy Management (SEM) announced that it was hiring for several newly created positions. Read our case study on SEM.