US Utilities Report 100% Growth in Solar Capacity over 2009


The top 10 US Utilities ranked by solar capacity additions installed 561 megawatts (MW) of new solar capacity in 2010 – demonstrating 100% growth over 2009, according to the Solar Electric Power Association’s (SEPA) Top 10 Utility Solar Rankings released recently. SEPA’s annual top 10 list ranks utilities by solar megawatts added as well as solar watts-per-customer. It provides great insight into the trends of solar deployment across the country.

For the first time ever, 63% of the new solar capacity added by utilities in the US came from utilities outside California. Pacific Gas & Electric Company (PG & E) maintained it leadership status by adding 157 MW of solar in 2010. However, Florida Power & Light (FP & L) and New Jersey’s Public Service Electric & Gas (PSE & G) raced to grab the number 2 and 3 spots with 87 MW and 68 MW respectively.

California, long king of the solar heap thanks to its forward thinking solar programs, remains a major market, but seven of this year’s top ten utilities were not from California and four of the top ranking utilities were from the East Coast.

Two important growth trends appear from this year’s data, centralized projects and utility ownership.

• Historically, distributed solar PV was responsible for the majority of the new capacity added. But this year, eight centralized projects greater than 10 MW each were installed, including what are now the two largest PV projects in the US – the 48 MW Copper Mountain project in Nevada, with power purchased by PG&E and the 30 MW Cimarron projects in New Mexico, with power purchased by the Tri-State Generation & Transmission Cooperative Association from Colorado. FP&L, for example, ranked second highest in this year’s list primarily because of two large utility owned projects – a 10 MW PV project at the Kennedy Space Center and a 75 MW hybrid concentrated solar power plant at a combined-cycle natural gas plant.

• Over 30 utilities reported owning 140 MW of solar generation facilities, as opposed to purchasing from facilities owned by others. Utility ownership is thought to be a key to accelerating the US solar market, because it enables the utilities to take advantage of federal and state incentives as well as placing solar assets in its portfolio mix for rate-basing.

The report also ranks the top utilities by solar watts-per-customers, which gives a better view into the density of solar in a utility’s overall portfolio. Silicon Valley Power, a California municipal utility with only 52,000 customers, but in a region with lots of sun, ranks number #1. On the other end of spectrum, and ranking #2 was New Jersey’s investor owner PSE & G, which has 2.1 million customers, relatively high electricity rates and lower than average solar resources.

Overall, these rankings are good news for the solar industry as utilities find more and better ways to diversify their generation portfolio with solar resources. Not only does solar make good business sense, it can help jump start our economy and delivery long term economic growth. To access the report visit the SEPA web site.