In 2011, solar’s role in the energy portfolios of utilities across much of the country grew significantly. Large scale power plants fueled the surge, but so did residential and business rooftops. Solar leasing for homeowners continued to grow as companies like SunRun and SolarCity expanded their offerings to more states.
This week, the Solar Electric Power Association (SEPA) released a preview of its Solar Top 10, an annual look at which utilities are taking the lead of solar development. The 2011 findings show a 38 percent growth in the number of PV installations over the past year and a 120 percent spike in megawatts installed.
SEPA expects this trend to continue this year, mainly because of continued price drops and the build out of large-scale projects.
In 2011, utilities interconnected more than 62,500 PV systems. Thirteen utilities interconnected more than 1,000 PV systems and 22 interconnected more than 500 systems. Xcel Energy, Colorado’s largest utility, ranks number nine in a list of top solar annual solar megawatts generated. Surprisingly, New Mexico, high on solar resources but relatively low in installations, cracked the top 10 behind Xcel Energy.
According to the report, this volume of smaller, distributed interconnections is unlike anything the utility industry has previously managed. What the landscape will look like next year following the recently expired Section 1603 grant is a wild card.
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.