The utility industry is moving toward mass adoption of solar power despite a tough economic climate, according to a new report from The Solar Electric Power Association (SEPA). Solar electricity is finally on the radar screen of utilities across the country, says Julia Hamm, executive director of SEPA.
This year’s report, based on the 2008 Utility Solar Electricity Survey completed by utilities in April 2009, indicates how much solar electricity was interconnected by surveyed utilities in calendar year 2008 and what was installed cumulatively up through the end of 2008 including photovoltaics and concentrating solar power (CSP).
According to a recent joint report from Greenpeace International, the European Solar Thermal Electricity Association (ESTELA) and IEA SolarPACES, CSP could meet up to 7 percent of the world’s power needs by 2030 and 25 percent by 2050.
The “2008 Top Ten Utility Solar Integration Rankings” report shows an average increase of 2 megawatts (MW) per participating utility in 2008, which is enough to offset the use of over 300 homes on an annual basis. In the total solar-watts-per-customer category, utilities added an average of 33 watts per customer, or the equivalent of one residential-sized system for every 90 customers. However, the median utility added about one watt per customer, showing that watt-per-customer growth is still concentrated in certain utility markets, according to the report.
For the first time this year, the report breaks out rankings for what was installed in calendar year 2008 and what was installed cumulatively up through the end of 2008. Participating utilities had an average of 11 megawatts in their cumulative portfolio, and the Top Ten utilities represent 93 percent of all solar capacity. Because of their head-start, the large investor-owned utilities in California are likely to retain a lead in the overall cumulative rankings even as the year-to-year rankings shift, reports SEPA.
Here’s a look at some of the top utilities:
Pacific Gas and Electric Company, based in San Francisco, California, was the most solar integrated utility in 2008, interconnecting 85 MW of new capacity. This number represents over 44 percent of the survey total. The utility company recently announced plans to follow in Southern California Edison’s (SCE) footsteps with equity investments in a large-scale renewable energy project. The plans will be similar to SCE’s $875 million, 250-megawatt rooftop solar project.
Ranked second and third were Southern California Edison and San Diego Gas & Electric, rounding out the top three spots by California investor-owned utilities.
For the solar watts-per-customer category in 2008, the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission (SFPUC), a water utility that provides electrical generation to its municipal buildings, ranked first with almost 2,700 watts per customer for its 340 customer sites. SFPUC has invested in many PV projects with the assistance of state incentive programs to achieve this coverage for its city buildings, says SEPA. Second and third were Kauai Island Utility Cooperative in Hawaii and Palo Alto Utilities in Northern California.
On a cumulative solar megawatt basis, Southern California Edison was ranked first, followed by Pacific Gas & Electric and NV Energy, a Nevada utility. Cumulatively in watts per customer, SFPUC ranked first, followed by the Port of Oakland, and Southern California Edison. Both the SFPUC and the Port of Oakland are not electrical utilities in the traditional sense, serving residential and commercial customers, but entities that procure electricity for their municipal and port accounts, says SEPA.
SEPA says the utility segment is making a major investment to increase the amount of solar energy in their power portfolios, with many of them doubling the amount of solar power in just one year. The overall installed solar capacity of the top ten ranked utilities rose from 711 to 882 MW, reflecting 25 percent growth, and 88 percent of new annual growth was in the top ten service territories. SEPA says electric utilities, through its Utility Solar Business Model initiative, are collaborating around innovative business models to encourage solar power deployment.
Fast facts from the study:
- Participating utilities saw an average increase of 2 MW and a median of 0.1 MW of solar added to their portfolio in 2008. The Top Ten utilities represented 88 percent of the survey megawatt total. Utilities in seven different states placed in the Top Ten.
- Participating utilities saw an average increase of 33 watts per customer and a median of 1 watt per customer of solar added to their portfolio in 2008. Nine of the Top Ten utilities are from California and Hawaii.
- Participating utilities had an average of 11 MW and a median of 0.2 MW of solar in their cumulative portfolio. The Top Ten utilities represented 93 percent of the survey megawatt total. Utilities in six different states placed in the Top Ten.
- Participating utilities had an average of 97 watts per customer and a median of 2 watts per customer of solar in their cumulative portfolio. Nine of the Top Ten utilities are from California and Hawaii.