With some of the highest insolation rates in the country, Arizona has gained quite the reputation for itsability to generate solar power. It would only make sense, then, thatthe state would use all this potential within its own borders at home,right?
Not according to Matt Croucher, an assistant research professor at Arizona State University’s business school. Croucher recently published a research piece in the Electricity Journal saying that, if the United States ever wants to realize its full solar energypotential, Arizona will have to export more of its own solar energy.
Croucher reasons that, because of Arizona’s already relatively lowelectric rates, utility companies are criticized by their customers forprice hikes, which are sometimes attributable to integrating more solargenerating capacity within their service territories. To ease the mindsof in-state critics and spread solar energy throughout the country,Croucher reasons that the Grand Canyon State’s solar energy should beexported to states with higher utility rates such as Hawaii, Maryland,Delaware, Alaska, Wisconsin, Texas, Ohio, New Mexico, Massachusetts andColorado, in no particular order.
Here’s Croucher’s explanation in his own words:
“When you add solar generation there is the criticism that it is notcost competitive with standard technology, which can have potentiallynegative economic impact. States with high electricity prices already,the structure of their economy is different, and they can potentiallyabsorb any additional increases.”
Easier said then done. Croucher’s plan would be a difficult,long-term process to carry out. First of all, new transmission lineswill have to constructed in order for the solar energy to be exportedfrom Arizona to the rest of the country. A similar challenge faceswind-rich states, like the Dakotas, that are far from major populationcenters. Secondly, Arizona and California, two states in the top ten inthe nation in installed solar capacity, both have renewable energyrequirements that must be met within the next five and ten years, sothey’re doing using their own energy to meet those goals.
But these factors haven’t stopped Arizona from trying to export. Infact, Arizona is the nation’s leading “exporter” of solar electricity.First Solar is in the process of constructing a new solar plant justoutside of Yuma, Arizona that will generate power to be exported to (you guessed it) California.
A main problem, Croucher says, is that California only ranks 38th inthe nation on the study’s list of most desired states to use solarpower. Arizona stands at forty-one. The export to the Golden State iseasy because California needs it — and because the close proximity ofthe two states means no new transmission lines are needed. In order toput Croucher’s method to work, these problems will need to be figuredout throughout the country.
Finally, it bears noting that one of the nice things aboutresidential solar energy systems in Arizona — versus large,utility-scale projects — is that the bulk of a given system’s output isused on site. That is, most of the electricity generated by a solar home energy system is used at home by the system’s owner.