The Solar Electric Power Association (SEPA) has released its third annual Top Ten Utility Solar Rankings. Pacific Gas and Electric Co. of California (PG&E) topped the list of utilities with the most solar megawatts added to the grid for the second straight year, with 85.2 MW, but new additions to the list and overall growth in solar integration by utilities defined 2009, according to the report.
The top 10 utilities' solar megawatts added to the grid grew from 169 MW in 2008 to 279 in 2009 – a growth of 66% during a year when electricity demand as a whole declined as the result of an economic downturn. These 10 utilities represented 80% of the survey total and are a focal point for the nation's solar activity. The results of SEPA's research suggest that this growth was sparked, in part, by a drop in price for photovoltaic modules and systems worldwide.
‘One thing is clear from these results,’ says SEPA Executive Director Julia Hamm. ‘Now is a great time to take another look at solar electric power. If a utility's pricing perceptions are even 12 months old, they are out of date.’
Joining the top 10 this year are Florida Power & Light Co. at No. 4, with 29.5 MW; Salt River Project at No. 8, with 5.8 MW; and the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power No. 10, with 4.889 MW.
However, utilities across the country are strengthening their solar portfolios, according to SEPA's survey results. The Top Ten utilities' share of overall solar generation in the survey actually dropped from 88% in 2008 to 80% in 2009 – indicating increasing solar activity by utilities outside of the top 10, SEPA says.
As part of its analysis of the solar utility market, SEPA also controls for the size of a utility's customer base and presents a top 10 based on the solar watts per customer of participating utilities. That list also features newcomers this year – specifically, Sulphur Springs Valley Electric Cooperative and Graham County Electric Cooperative, both in Arizona and unranked in 2008. Sulphur Springs Valley Electric Cooperative took the top spot in 2009, with 56 W per customer, and Graham County Electric Cooperative took the 10th spot, with 14.8 W per customer.
One of the report's key conclusions is that utilities' solar portfolios are on the cusp of significant changes. Traditionally, solar electric markets have been distributed, consumer-focused and industry-driven, but 2009 marked the beginning of change in market dynamics, SEPA says.
The 2009 rankings were affected, in part, by several centralized or aggregated distributed solar projects that were built or began construction, and several utilities that were directly involved in owning new solar projects. Installations on the utility side of the meter increased 267% from around 18 MW in 2008 to 65 MW in 2009 and made up 19% of the survey's total – up from 9% the previous year.
SOURCE: Solar Electric Power Association