RIVERSIDE San Bernardino and Riverside counties are leading the state as it increases solar power production 600 percent from 2013 to 2015, a top California Energy Commission official said here Thursday.
Next week the Ivanpah solar power project, near the San Bernardino County-Nevada line, officially comes on line, becoming the largest solar plant in the world, as it delivers 370 megawatts to customers of Rosemead-based Southern California Edison and San Francisco-based Pacific Gas Electric Co., said David Hochschild, CEC commissioner.
Hochschild was one of more than 25 speakers at “The Future is Now” solar energy conference hosted by UC Riverside’s Center for Environmental Research and Technology and Center for Sustainable Suburban Development, the Southern California Research Initiative for Solar Energy and Solar Max, a Riverside-based solar power system designer and installer.
The Ivanpah project may not hold the “world’s largest” title for long as the developers of Riverside County’s 550 megawatt Desert Solar power plant have said their project will be completed next year.
The California Energy Commission has mandated that by the end of 2020, 33 percent of the state’s energy supply should come from solar or other renewable power sources.
While the solar industry has had tremendous growth nationally — and in California — its contribution to the total energy supply is less than 1 percent, conference speakers noted.
By comparison, 10 percent of Italy’s power comes from solar and in Germany it’s 5.6 percent, even though its sunshine climate is comparable to Alaska’s, said Sarah Kurtz, photovoltaic reliability group manager for the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, in Golden, Colo.
Hochschild said that more Americans work in the solar industry than in the automobile industry and about 30 percent of those solar industry employees work in California.
Bernadette Del Chiaro, executive director of the California Solar Energy Industries Association, said that California needs to establish renewable energy goals beyond 2020 to maintain the momentum of solar power and other renewables.
“We need better leadership and clearer signals (from Sacramento),” Del Chiaro said.
Kurtz said that for solar power to retain its global growth of about $100 billion per year, reliability issues for solar panels, mounting materials and other components need to be addressed.
Participants in the solar industry “are masters at passing risk onto the next guy,” she said.
Typically a large solar power operator sells their system to another owner, who will sell it to another, who will sell it to another, Kurtz said.
Testing standards for solar panels’ life need to be developed, she said.
And 25-year reliability testing needs to compressed into three months, something that “is like getting a chick to hatch in six hours,” she said.
Kurtz said her research unit is working on these tests and standards while Sandia National Laboratories, in Albuquerque, N.M., is wrestling with similar issues on the inverters, which convert direct current into alternating current, used by the solar industry.
The conference was held at UCR’s Center for Environmental Research Technology, 1084 Columbia Ave., which is developing a four megawatt solar powerplant. A 3.5 megawatt solar plant is under construction on the western side of the main UCR campus.
When those are completed, UCR will account for half of the city of Riverside’s solar production, said John Cook, UCR sustainability director.