Business Report – California: Largest Solar Facility On Earth Goes Operational

By The BF Staff
From the September/October 2015 Issue

BHE Renewables’ 579-megawatt solar project in Antelope Valley, California is now fully connected to the California ISO grid. That allows the facility, dubbed “Solar Star,“ to claim the title of the largest operational solar project on the planet. It went fully operational during the summer, according to the California Independent System Operator (CAISO) website.

The 579-megawatt Solar Star facility in Antelope Valley (aerial view, above) recently was connected to CA’s ISO grid. (Credit:

Solar Star narrowly edges out First Solar’s two projects, the 550-megawatt capacity Topaz Solar and the 550-megawatt Desert Sunlight project in Riverside, CA for the title.

Construction started in January 2013 on the Solar Star projects, which are sited in California’s Los Angeles and Kern counties. The projects employ approximately 1.7 million SunPower monocrystalline silicon modules on single-axis trackers.

The utility segment installed 644 megawatts in Q1 2015, according to GTM Research’s U.S. Solar Market Insight report. Utility PV installations have surpassed 500 megawatts for eight consecutive quarters, according to GTM Research. According to Cory Honeyman, senior solar analyst at GTM Research, Solar Star’s completion is a milestone for the U.S. and global solar markets, proving that mega-scale solar farms can be achieved ahead of schedule, an encouraging sign for SunPower and other leading developers’ ability to finish the more than 15 gigawatts of U.S. utility PV pipeline currently in development, nearly all of which is slated for completion in 2015 or 2016.

The proposed expansion of California’s Renewable Portfolio Standard to 50 percent make lead to more mega-projects like Solar Star (greater than 500 megawatts-AC in size), industry analysts say. Most agree that the outlook is bright for the long-term growth trajectory of utility-scale solar in the U.S., fueled by incremental cost reductions that are sufficient to capitalize on new EPA carbon regulations and natural-gas price volatility.


California, one of the nation’s leading science and technology states, was one of the hardest hit states in the country during the Great Recession. But now in the midst of a brisk Recovery, the Golden State remains one of the top environments for high-tech innovation, due in part to the different strengths of three key regions in the state.

According to California Council on Science and Technology Executive Director Susan Hackwood, “California’s innovation capacity comprises a powerful story. The similarities between the high-tech communities in San Diego, Los Angeles, and the Bay Area are striking, but the differences are just as much so.”

A recent posting on the non-profit’s website details an innovation ‘ecosystem’ which is the complicated interplay of numerous factors in the environment which help foster and nurture high-tech innovation including research and development spending, venture capital, the talent pool, and many more. There has been considerable focus in recent years on identifying and supporting key factors to boost the growth of high-tech innovation in the U.S. and abroad.

The Bay Area, home to Silicon Valley, is the national benchmark for high-tech innovation; the region is home to a wealth of research universities, federal laboratories, and corporations which actively collaborate in numerous ways.

While the Bay Area is the best known of California’s high-tech innovation centers, it is not, however, the only one. San Diego has a substantial innovation economy as well, adding 412 new technology businesses in 2013, according to Connect, a regional group that aims to promote and create technology-based companies. In 2013 San Diego County received more than 6,700 patents, the third-highest county total in the state.

San Diego’s persistent branding and promoting of the region’s science and technology companies, along with an early recognition of the importance of creating an ecosystem that could enable commercialism, have helped drive thriving centers for both biotech and software research. The Los Angeles area represents still another model of an innovation-friendly ecosystem. While the Bay Area and San Diego have long relied on the high-tech sector as engines of their economies, L.A. has an economy that is transitioning towards newer industries. In 2013 the local tech sector edged out the area’s manufacturing, food services, and trade and logistics industries for the first time, with jobs spread out across a wide range of industries including aerospace, engineering services, and computer software.

The regional success stories of the Bay Area, Los Angeles, and San Diego have been a driving force in California’s economic recovery. Not surprisingly, the state is prioritizing the commercialization of innovation and technology as an economic development strategy, launching an innovation hub program in 2014 (iHub) with sixteen hubs around the state, seeking to expand.

Challenges remain. In a 2011 assessment of the innovation ecosystem, CCST found that many stakeholders in the science and technology community were concerned about the state’s approach to incorporating digitally enhanced education and the infrastructure and resource limitations posed by the state’s water systems.


Southland residents did their part conserving water in drought-stricken CA this summer, with most cities exceeding their conservation mandates as Californians overall dropped their water use by 31.3 percent in July, compared to the same month two years ago. The Los Angeles Dept. of Water and Power also reported its customers had reduced usage by 21 percent, besting the 16 percent target set by the state.

Cities that do not meet water-conservation goals can face stiff financial penalties. Beverly Hills residents reduced use by 21.6 percent in July, but that was well short of the 32 percent target set by the state. Norwalk reduced water use by 18.5 percent, below the city’s state-set mandate of 20 percent. Glendora residents, who have a tough 36-percent reduction mandate from the state, exceeded that goal in July, cutting by 38.3 percent. Huntington Beach residents cut by 25.7 percent, ahead of the 20 percent goal; Manhattan Beach was down 23.4 percent, besting the 20 percent goal; and Inglewood reduced by 15.3 percent, ahead of the 12 percent mandate.