The big news in deployment of solar in the U.S. usually surrounds two states, California and New Jersey. But more states are starting to join the fray. That’s demonstrated by the Solar Electric Power Association’s “2011 SEPA Utility Solar Rankings.” The report, released May 24, found that utilities in more states like New Mexico and Tennessee are joining the solar fray.
Overall it was a banner year for solar in the U.S. The free report found that utilities connected more than 62,000 solar photovoltaic systems throughout the country, resulting in nearly 1.5 gigawatts of new utility solar capacity, the association said. That’s more than twice the amount added in 2010.
While California and New Jersey continue to be the overall leaders for solar deployment Tennessee was a bit of a surprise, said Becky Campbell, SEPA research manager. “A big surprise was some of the Tennessee Valley Authority utilities integrating the amount they did,” she said. In fact, two of them, Blue Ridge Mountain EMC and Fayetteville Public Utilities took the number 2 and 3 spots in terms of new solar watts per customer rankings. Between the two—one a municipal utility, the other a cooperative—they integrated 12 megawatts in 2011.
Similarly, Xcel Energy in New Mexico jumped from 56 in terms of newly installed PV capacity to 10, due largely to a couple of projects. Xcel’s efforts in New Mexico previously were much smaller and were overshadowed by its efforts in Colorado, according to Campbell.
It’s not just where solar’s being installed for utilities across the country, it’s which utilities are doing it. For instance, the utility that installed the most solar watts per customer in 2011 was the Vineland Municipal Utility. “They integrated 18 megawatts through power-purchase agreements,” Campbell said. Most were large commercial scale projects less than 5 megawatts in size.
In terms of overall new generation, California’s Pacific Gas and Electric Co. was the biggest player, installing 287.7 megawatts last year. “They had several centralized projects this year, but they still had a really huge residential and small commercial portfolio. They had close to 20,000 interconnections in 2011,” Campbell said.
Looking forward, Campbell sees that solar is spreading into the East Coast more. “We’re seeing a shift and little more a balance between California and the East Coast,” she said. Although some of the California mega-scale solar projects could distort that as they come online over the next few years.