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Solar Power And Its Role In California’s Energy Resilience

Media Office Staff

Solar energy is finding a place in California. Today, it makes up more than 10 percent of electricity generation in the state. Not that long ago, it was a mere sliver of the energy mix.

Solar energy barely registered in 2011 when compared to nuclear-powered generation, according to a resource mix tool from the California Energy Commission. Energy Commission employees will be using the tool for market analysis.

The information used to estimate California energy mix, which is called total system power, is different than what is used to determine compliance for California’s Renewables Portfolio Standard.

Comparing nuclear and solar is important to California’s energy history because it shows the significant growth of solar and the resilience of the state’s portfolio approach.

The San Onofre Nuclear Generation Station in San Diego County is being decommissioned after shutting down in 2012 due to a leak in the steam generators. San Onofre supplied about 2,250 megawatts of baseload power for 20 years with Units 2 and 3, as well as key transmission ancillary benefits, such as voltage support.

San Onofre’s shutdown was a major hole in Southern California’s electricity and transmission system with no plan to backfill the loss.

The shutdown resulted in the unplanned loss of electric generation and more importantly, the transmission asset to connect Los Angeles with San Diego. The power flow studies looking at California’s grid never contained a scenario with both San Onofre units offline. The size of the infrastructure was considered too large to fail.

Within four to five years, solar power filled the void left by the loss of nuclear generation because the portfolio approach permitted California to pull from different electricity sources. Historically, natural gas has been used to fill gaps when demand changes.

The resource mix tool was one of Stanford University graduate student Matt Alexander’s projects during his summer internship with Energy Commission Chair Robert B. Weisenmiller’s office.

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