Solar, Utility Integration, Utility Scale

SEPA Unveils Its Top Ten Utility Rankings for 2008

The Solar Electric Power Association (SEPA) today released its second annual ranking on utility solar integration for 2008, a report that captures information on solar technologies including photovoltaic and concentrating solar power, on both the customer and utility sides of the meter.

The report is broken down into annual and cumulative installations and not surprisingly California utilities took top honors in most categories in both the annual and cumulative rankings.  SEPA noted, however, that utilities in seven different states placed in the top ten on the annual rankings.

Of the more than 3000 utilities in the U.S., SEPA targeted the 100 most “solar-active” and 92 of those participated in the survey, an increase of more than 80% over last year.

For the annual rankings, Pacific Gas and Electric Company was the most solar-integrated utility in 2008, installing or interconnecting approximately 85 MW of new capacity according to the report.

Ranked second and third were Southern California Edison (last year’s top winner) and San Diego Gas & Electric, rounding out a sweep of the top three spots by California investor-owned utilities. The top ten utilities represent 88% of the surveyed megawatt total, indicating a wide margin over other survey participants.

For total solar watts per customer, the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission, a water utility that provides electrical generation to its municipal buildings, ranked first by a large margin, with almost 2700 watts per customer based on their 349 municipal accounts. Somewhat of an outlier, SFPUC has invested in sizeable PV projects with assistance of statewide IOU incentive programs to achieve its coverage of city buildings.  

Ranked second, third and fourth were Hawaiian and Californian utilities: Kauai Island Coop (HI), Palo Alto Utilities (CA) and Maui Electric Company (HI) with 47, 44 and 33 watts/customer respectively. The watts per customer rankings are dominated by California and Hawaii utilities with the exception of Black Hills Energy (CO).  

The rankings also include the top solar utilities in 2008 on the customer and the utility sides of the meter for both solar megawatts and watts per customer. Pacific Gas & Electric Company (CA) integrated more solar megawatts than any other utility on both the customer and utility sides of the meter in 2008. In watts per customer, Kauai Island Coop (HI) had the highest watts per customer on the customer side of the meter and San Francisco PUC (CA) on the utility side.

The report offers information on cumulative rankings and breakout rankings that highlight some utility leaders by utility type and region.

You can download the report here.

In terms of future trends, report co-author and director of research and education at SEPA, Mike Taylor and SEPA executive director, Julia Hamm noted in a press conference that there is increasing activity on large utility-scale projects.  They also explained that they are seeing more utilities entering into the distributed-generation-power-plant model in which a utility owns hundreds of MW of distributed solar generation and controls the distributed arrays as if they were one power plant.

Where in the past, customers have been the drivers of the solar market, SEPA is seeing a true shift where the utility is now a significant driver in the marketplace.

“Residential and commercial photovoltaic projects will continue to be important stimulants for job creation and small business growth, but they will be complemented by large-scale photovoltaic and concentrating solar power projects,” said Taylor.  “The variety of ways solar power is being implemented signals an increased maturity in the market.”

While the financial downturn is certainly softening the market, more supply is coming online, driving down prices, said Taylor.  Hamm noted that in some cases, utilities are actually better positioned to help stimulate the market because of their access to capital.  This coupled with the growing utility interest in solar could be a good sign for the solar industry.

Finally the report lists publicly announced utility-scale solar projects, a list that encompasses utilities from across the nation.  Taken together there are a total of 7521 MW of solar projects expected to come online in the next few years, with 2379 MW of PV and 5402 MW of CSP.

Look for an in-depth discussion of SEPA’s finding in the July/August issue of Renewable Energy World magazine.