Solar generation capacity 'no longer insignificant'

Solar generation capacity no longer insignificant

Solar electric generation has increased 418 percent since 2010 and now accounts for 1.13 percent of total US generation capacity.

“Solar is still small, but it’s no longer insignificant,” said Glenn McGrath, a researcher and author of a recent report on solar industry growth for the Energy Information Administration.

Seven years ago, solar accounted for 0.2 percent of US electric generation capacity.

“And now it’s coming up fast,” McGrath said. “If it stays on this pace, it will be 2 percent of capacity within a couple years.”

And every indication is that solar energy will continue its rapid growth, he said.

Utility-scale solar developers have reported projects to the EIA that will double the country’s solar electric generation capacity by the end of 2015.

“We’re pretty confident that product will come online,” he said. “In fact, that probably is an underrepresentation of what will happen. Not everyone has decided what they’re going to do and we’ve probably missed some.”

Utility-scale solar capacity topped net metered solar for the first time in 2013. Net metering is reported by the utility companies, which makes it easier to track, but harder to predict, McGrath said. Net metering is the policy in 43 states that requires utilities to pay home and business owners who install rooftop solar for the excess power they generate.

Net metered solar has grown at a steady and consistent pace over the last 10 years, according EIA data. McGrath said that steady growth is expected to continue.

“It’s been fairly linear, adding about 1,100 megawatts a year,” McGrath said.

Utility scale solar is expected to add 2,900 megawatts of generation capacity in 2014.

“It looks like the utility scale solar will continue to exceed net metering going forward,” McGrath said. “Of course, it’s hard to say that with any confidence. There could be a big change with the utility experience and a lot more people will be adding rooftop solar.”

California leads both net metered solar with 38 percent of the nation’s total and utility scale solar with 49 percent of the country’s total, according to EIA data. Other states, such as New Jersey and Massachusetts for net metering and Arizona and North Carolina for utility scale solar, have seen significant solar industry growth largely because of their solar friendly policies, according to the EIA report.

As solar capacity grows, it will change the way communities are powered because it doesn’t require any additional investment or resources once it’s incorporated into the grid.

“It’s displacing everything,” McGrath said. “Renewables – once you get them on the system, they’re always the first to be dispatched. Because they’re dispatched first, they’re displacing everything – coal, gas, nuclear – depending on where you are in the country.”