TODAY’S STUDY: THE BEST UTILITIES FOR SUN
2012 SEPA Top 10 Utility Solar Rankings Preview; Large-scale Solar Projects Drive New Market Growth April 2013 (Solar Electric Power Association)
The Solar Electric Power Association’s (SEPA) sixth annual Utility Solar Rankings report analyzes the amount of new solar power interconnected by U.S. electric utilities in 2012. It covers more than 260 of the most solar-active utilities, representing more than 96 percent of the national U.S. solar electric power market. This preview examines the three key trends and national utility rankings, to be followed by the full report in late May.
Three key trends emerged from the data:
1. Annual solar capacity surpassed 2 gigawatts for the first time in 2012. Utilities integrated almost 2.4 gigawatts (GW-ac) or 2,384 megawatts (MW-ac) of solar electric capacity in 2012. This is equivalent to the construction of 8 natural gas combined cycle power plants. The U.S. now has more than 300,000 solar projects and almost 6.1 GW-ac installed across the country.
2. Utilities purchased more than 1 gigawatt of large-scale solar. The market share for large-scale solar projects (> 5 MW) was 1,106 MW or 46 percent of all annual solar capacity, a growth of almost 250 percent over 2011. This wholesale market segment encompassed more than 70 photovoltaic (PV) projects, including Pacific Gas and Electric’s purchase of the largest solar PV project in the world, the 250 MW Agua Caliente project. Utilities owned 12 percent and purchased the remaining 88 percent through power purchase agreements. No concentrating solar power (CSP) projects were completed in 2012, but at least six projects totaling 750 megawatts are anticipated in 2013. The large solar segment has grown into a key part of the market in only a few years, and will continue growing in 2013.
3. Customer-sited solar remains a large part of the solar market. Net metered projects, effectively the customer-facing part of the market, accounted for more than 99 percent of the number ofinstalled systems in 2012. Utilities interconnected nearly 90,000 net metered projects totaling 1,151 MW-ac last year, representing a 46 percent growth over 2011. There are currently about 3.5 GW of net metered projects in the country, approximately 80 percent of which are concentrated in five states – California, New Jersey, Arizona, Hawaii and Massachusetts.
National Utility Solar Rankings The Top 10 annual rankings measure U.S. utilities’ newly integrated solar power, and include PV and CSP projects that were interconnected during 2012. There are two rankings categories: Solar Megawatts, which measure a utility’s total solar capacity, and Solar Watts-per-Customer, which standardizes the capacity using each utility’s total number of electric customers.
Solar Megawatts Pacific Gas & Electric (PG&E) ranked first nationally and installed more than 800 MW in 2012, an 80 percent increase over 2011 and more than what was installed in the entire country as recently as 2010. Its portfolio included nearly 630 MW of large-scale projects, of which 50 MW were utility-owned. PG&E also interconnected more than 17,500 net metered systems in 2012. Southern California Edison (SCE) ranked second with more than 190 MW of new solar generation and was driven primarily by 15,000 residential and non-residential projects, which accounted for more than 150 MW. Public Service Electric and Gas (PSE&G) rounded out the top three utilities and along with Jersey Central Power & Light and Progress Carolinas, was one of three utilities from the east coast in the Top 10.
Sacramento Municipal Utility District (SMUD) was the only municipal utility to make this year’s Top 10 MW list, taking the ninth spot with nearly 70 MW. SMUD’s portfolio was driven by the utility’s procurement of more than 50 MW of large-scale PV projects through the build-out of their 2010 RFP solicitation process.
In 2012, it took a minimum of 65 MW to make the MW rankings list, compared to 45 MW in 2011 and just 20 MW in 2010. Utilities in the megawatt category were generally large, with a median of 1.1 million customers, compared to the median size of 300,000 for the top 100 utilities that took the survey.
Solar Watts-per-Customer In the Watts-per-Customer category, the municipal utility for the City of St. Marys (OH) ranked first nationally with nearly 563 watts per customer (w/c). The city owns 2.3 MW of a 3.6 MW solar project that is located in the City of Napoleon, OH, whose municipal utility owns another portion and is ranked ninth in this year’s Top 10. Kauai Island Utility Cooperative followed in second with 282 w/c after adding more than 9 MW of new capacity to their grid in 2012. Kauai’s cumulative solar capacity is 14 MW, or nearly 23 percent of their peak weekday demand. Bryan Municipal Utilities, located in Ohio, rounded out the top three with 276 w/c after installing a 2 MW utility-owned PV project.
This year, it took 162 w/c to make the Top 10 list, which is nearly double the requirement of 83 w/c to rank in 2011. This year’s highest ranked Investor-Owned Utility was Hawaiian Electric Company (HECO), taking the fourth spot with nearly 220 w/c. Notably, Ohio tied with Hawaii for the state that contributed the most utilities to the Watt-per-Customer Top 10 list, each contributing three. While Hawaii has embraced solar energy because it is an economically viable source of electricity and the state has an abundance of solar irradiation, Ohio is a newcomer to the rankings, driven by solar initiatives from American Municipal Power, the municipal generation and transmission provider in the region.
The utilities in this ranking were smaller than those in the Solar Megawatts category, with a median of 29,000 customers, and were more diverse by geography and utility type. Only three utilities, Hawaiian Electric Co., Maui Electric and Tucson Electric Power, made last year’s Watts-per-Customer ranking and only two, HECO and Tucson Electric Power, made both Top 10 lists in 2012. It is not unusual for one or a few medium-sized solar projects to push a smaller utility into the Watts-per-Customer Top 10, creating greater volatility in this ranking.