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Solar Top 10: SEPA List Details Key Utility Trends

In 2011, solar became a far deeper ingrained part of energy portfolios for utilities across much of the United States, and that adoption was fueled by significant leaps in everything from large-scale power plants to residential rooftops.

This week, the Solar Electric Power Association released a preview of its Solar Top 10, an annual look at which utilities are taking the lead of solar development. The full detailed report will come out in May. The 2011 findings show a 38 percent growth in the number of installations over the past year and a 120 percent spike in megawatts installed. SEPA expects this trajectory to continue in 2012 behind continued price drops and the build out of large-scale projects.

While we already knew that solar had its best year ever in 2011, and that final installation numbers were higher than expected, it’s still valuable to see which utilities connected the most solar, and where new high levels of deployment are being seen.

So here are some takeaways from the recently released findings:

  • Large-scale solar farms make the headlines, but smaller installations remain the bread-and-butter of the industry. In 2011, utilities interconnected over 62,500 PV systems. Thirteen utilities interconnected more than 1,000 PV systems and 22 interconnected more than 500 systems. According to the report, this volume of smaller, distributed interconnections is unlike anything the utility industry has previously managed. It’ll be interesting to see how these numbers fare next year and in 2013 when the impacts of the recently expired Section 1603 grant will be felt.
  • Utilities play a far greater role than interconnection. Utility procurement and ownership continue to become fundamental parts of the solar equation. Direct wholesale purchases and utility ownership represented 39 percent of the new solar capacity in 2011, versus 9 percent in 2008.
  • New solar markets are starting to develop. While New Jersey remains a dominant force in the Northeast, it’s joined in the top 10 by neighboring New York, thanks mostly to a 30 MW solar facility recently commissioned by the Long Island Power Authority. New Mexico, high on solar resources but relatively low in installations, cracked the top 10 behind Xcel Energy.
  • Atlantic City Electric in New Jersey and Sacramento Municipal Utility District also made this year’s top 10. Florida Power and Light Company, Duke Energy in North Carolina, Tri-State G&T Co-op in Colorado and San Diego Gas and Electric fell out of this year’s top 10.
  • Pacific Gas and Electric in California again took the top spot in megawatts installed with 287.7 while Vineland Municipal Electric Utility in New Jersey topped the list for annual solar watts per customer with 768.5. The small utility, which has 25,000 customers, installed 19 MW of PV.


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