Saturday, February 28, 2015

Solar Takes Off in Eastern U.S.

SNL Energy's map showing utility-scale solar farms currently in development across the U.S. (Credit: SNL Energy) Click to Enlarge.
Though the Southeast is a tad bit less sunny than Southern California, the bullseye of solar power development in the U.S., utilities in the South are scrambling to capture their own rays of sunshine.  In fact, North Carolina is leaping ahead of California for the amount of new utility-scale solar farms currently under development, a new SNL Energy report released Wednesday shows.

The trend is occurring as the solar industry in the U.S. is coming off one of its best years ever.  The number of solar installations connected to the electric power grid jumped about 140 percent between 2013 and 2014 nationwide, SNL Energy data show.  More than 3.7 gigawatts (GW) of solar power capacity were installed across the U.S. in 2014, which closed out with more than 10 GW of utility-scale solar farms in operation, enough to power more than 2 million homes.

“The adoption of solar is spreading quickly nationwide — and nowhere is that more evident than in states like Texas, as well as Massachusetts, New York, New Jersey, North Carolina and Georgia,” Ken Johnson, vice-president of the Solar Energy Industries Association, said.

Solar development is spreading throughout the Southeast as costs of solar photovoltaic technology falls and utilities rush to take advantage of federal subsidies for solar, which could expire at the end of 2016 if Congress fails to renew them.

The biggest flurry of solar development is in North Carolina, which is coming for California’s solar crown.  While about 3.8 GW of utility-scale solar power production capacity is under development in California, North Carolina has nearly 4 GW of solar under development, SNL Energy Associate Director Steve Piper said.

One reason North Carolina is leading in solar is the state’s renewable energy portfolio standard, which requires major utilities to get 12.5 percent of their electricity from renewable sources by 2021, with each individual utility being required to generate a specific amount of that power from solar, a provision known as a solar set-aside, he said.

Piper said that as Congress debates the fate of solar subsidies, known as the solar investment tax credit, growth in utility-scale solar is going to explode over the next two years before possibly leveling out if subsidies are cut.

A map of solar power production potential across the U.S., showing that the Southeast, from Texas to Virginia, receives roughly the same amount of solar radiation. (Credit: NREL) Click to Enlarge.
The trend is occurring all over the eastern and central U.S., including one of the largest solar projects outside of the desert Southwest, a solar development in South Texas designed to help the city of San Antonio meet its goal of getting 20 percent of its electricity from renewable sources by 2020.

Read more at Solar Takes Off in Eastern U.S.

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