The Summer of Sun: Mid-Year 2016 Solar Insights

According to the U.S. Energy Information Agency (EIA), solar energy made up nearly 1.5 percent of total generation in the U.S. between the months of June 2016 through August 2016. That’s up from just over 1 percent during the same period in 2015. Total generation from solar energy during these three months is up over 38 percent year over year.

Where is the growth in solar generation occurring? Everywhere. EIA reports increasing solar generation in almost every state as well as the District of Columbia (only Alaska hasn’t reported solar generation statistics). Nearly every state has had double-digit growth in solar generation this summer.

The states with the largest increase in total generation from solar energy during these three months are:

  1. California
  2. North Carolina
  3. Nevada
  4. Utah
  5. Georgia

These five states have added more generation in the past three months (compared with last year) than the total solar generation in the entire U.S. for all of 2011! Quite a lot of progress in only five years.

Meanwhile, some states are experiencing substantial growth compared with last summer because they installed their first utility-scale solar facilities in the past 12 months. These include Arkansas, Idaho, Kentucky, Mississippi, Nebraska, Oklahoma, and South Carolina. These states are generating triple, quadruple, and in some cases, quintuple the solar energy than they did during the summer of 2015.

North Carolina continues to impress; more than doubling its solar generation from the summer of 2015. During the summer of 2016, the Tar Heel state averaged one new solar plant a week connecting to the electric grid. For the year, North Carolina’s solar generation is up by 120 percent.

Georgia and Utah are having excellent years. Georgia has more than tripled solar generation through the first eight months of 2016. Utah has generated nine times more solar energy in the same period compared with last year.

States to Watch

For the year, growth continues to accelerate in certain states not traditionally known for being sunny. Connecticut is up over 61 percent for the year, with most of that coming from distributed generation. New York is up over 55 percent, finally seeing the fruits of aggressive solar installation goals. Minnesota is also up over 55 percent, but with the completion of several very large community solar projects expected later this year, Minnesota’s solar generation could increase tenfold in 2017.

Meanwhile, after seeing disappointing growth in solar over the past few years, Florida is making a comeback, with substantial growth in generation along with several very large-scale solar installations expected to be completed by year’s end. Maryland has already had staggering growth thus far in 2016, up over 75 percent from 2015. Virginia has grown by nearly 70 percent already this year, and has several large solar installations expected to reach commercial operation by year’s end. Texas has a solar construction boom taking place that is expected to catapult it into one of the leading solar generating states in 2017. For the year, Texas is up 64 percent in solar generation.

There are states lagging behind. Illinois, Ohio and Pennsylvania have increased solar generation, but by only about a third of the national average. Tennessee has grown the slowest of any state, increasing by only about 1.6 percent for the year. However, a new solar plant currently under construction should increase Tennessee’s solar generation next year by at least 15 percent.

Before tax credits were extended in December of 2015, projects were racing to meet the deadline of Dec. 31, 2016, to reach commercial operation. Once the extension was put in place, many developers moved straggling projects into 2017. Meanwhile, projects shelved in 2015 because they were in the early planning stages have been reactivated and are on track for completion in late 2017. There is a seemingly endless portfolio of solar projects under development in the U.S. Utilities throughout the country are witnessing the drop in prices and realizing that they can benefit. That’s why New England and the Upper Midwest are developing solar energy and installations continue to rise.

The summer is a time when people go outside to enjoy the warm weather, go to the beach, get a tan, and protect themselves with sunglasses and suntan lotion. We’ve always know the sun is powerful, but failed to capture that energy for electricity. Finally, that’s changing. We are now at a time when energy from the sun can provide an endless power source fueling our economy. Solar energy will still be a factor during the colder, darker months of late 2016 and early 2017. But there is no doubt that the summer of 2017 will rely even more on the power of the sun than ever before.

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Daniel Fleischmann is the owner of Mountain Man Alternative Energy Consulting. He has a decade of experience developing and managing renewable energy projects in the U.S. and has helped develop over $600 million in renewable energy capacity.

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