Solar energy lights the way from California to Africa

California is blazing ahead in renewable energy, with an emphasis on solar. It’s an ambitious plan that other U.S. states and countries are watching carefully.

The state can already electrify 3.3 million homes with solar energy alone. A large chunk of that comes from the new Solar Star installation, with 1.7 million solar panels. It is the solar farm with the largest capacity in the world.

California outshines all other U.S. states in solar power. The solar dominance was achieved by a combination of local, state and federal laws and incentives for businesses and ordinary citizens to adopt solar and other renewable energy technologies. Generous tax credits have been important tools in California’s renewable energy roll-out.

California installed more solar in 2014 than all the other U.S. states combined from 1970 to 2011, according to the Solar Energy Industries Association.

California leads the top 10 U.S. states using solar power. (State Dept./ J. Maruszewski)
California leads the top 10 U.S. states using solar power. (State Dept./ J. Maruszewski)

The state has long led the charge into a renewable energy future, and it continues to build on that record. State climate legislation enacted in 2015 mandates that 50 percent of California’s electricity must come from renewable sources by 2030. This means utility companies are grappling with a new, 21st-century business model. Renewable energy from numerous sources — called the distributed grid — will soon provide as much or more power than the conventional, centralized grid. It’s a big change.

New York, Vermont and Hawaii are among those states with similar ambitions. Hawaii aims to be 100 percent renewable by 2045.

And it’s happening around the world. Clean energy investment has been a priority in China, Europe and Brazil, just a few of the places expanding their solar, wind and geothermal energy capacities.

South Africa, for example, has a number of solar energy projects underway. In May, Eskom, the country’s state-owned power utility, signed a 20-year power-purchase agreement with the Kathu Solar Park. That project alone will add 100 megawatts to the national grid by the end of 2018. Kathu Solar Park will use innovative thermal storage technology. When it comes online, it is expected to supply 80,000 households across South Africa, reduce carbon emissions by 300,000 metric tons annually and bring 1,200 new jobs.

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