Top 10 ranking of U.S. utilities for solar power plus Arizona Green highlights
TheSolar Electric Power Association (SEPA) recently released its “2008 TopTen Utility Solar Integration Rankings” report highlighting theutilities in the U.S. with significant solar power portfolios andnoting the increased collaboration of the U.S. electric utility andsolar energy industries. This report indicates that the utility segmentis finally undergoing a major investment in solar,as technology and cost factors improve, leading many utilities todouble the amount of solar power in their portfolio in just the pastyear. The overall installed solar capacity of the top ten rankedutilities rose from 711 megawatts to 882 megawatts (MW), equivalentto 25 percent growth.
Overall, 92 utilities participated in thisyear’s survey, an increase of more than 80 percent compared to lastyear, showing that the utility industry’s interest in solar energy hasbeen elevated, mainly due to more aggressive renewable energy portfolio standards(RPS) in U.S. states and possibly at the federal level. Other drivingforces which are spurring utilities to develop more solar powerresources include the American Clean Energy and Security Act(ACES), which would generate a ceiling on carbon emissions forutilities as well as a tradable carbon credit system, and theintegration of relatively untested large amounts of centralizedintermittent solar power on the U.S. power grid.
Basedon the SEPA report, prior to the economic downturn, analysts hadpredicted a 30-fold increase in solar capacity between 2009 and 2016,which would generate 440,000 green jobsand over $230 billion in investments and associated economicdevelopment. As the solar industry moves in that direction, it isdeveloping both localized(or distributed) and centralized installations owned by an array ofstrategic market players. Interestingly enough, this year’s reportshows that 2008 solar power growth came almost entirely from thousandsof localized generation projects, supported by a combination offederal, state and utility tax credits, as opposed to capital-intensivecentralized power plants that require mult-million dollar bank loans. However, this trend began before the announcement of the $3.9 billion Recovery Act funding for a national smart grid systemthat will alleviate the stain associated with large numbers ofcentralized renewable energy power sources across the country, amongother benefits.Furthermore, SEPA anticipates that in future years centralized solarelectric plants will become more common, as is happening in Arizona. Inthis case, large-scale solar projects will require better coordinationwith grid integration systems so that the energy is utilizedeffectively and in a timely manner, in contrast to many problematicdisconnected wind energy projects in recent years.
Newinnovative business models are emerging from organizations such asSEPA, utilities, and turn-key solar farm equipment manufacturers. Forinstance, Applied Materials is championing a strategy which calls forlocally-sited solar panel factories to be built by a solar modulemanufacturer using their thin-film PV panel SunFab production line,which is being geared towards utility-owned solar farms. Sinceelectricity generation would be placed for distribution near loadcenters, a solar farm may be quickly deployed without extensive, costlytransmission lines. Several utilities such as Duke Energy arepaying businesses and residences for use of their roofs to install andgenerate solar power, which lessens the need for solar farms and largecapital investments into expensive concentrating solar power technology(CSP). This particular model is more appropriate for less sunny regionsof the country such as the northeast and southeast, where it is beingimplemented for evaluation.
According to the SEPA study, PacificGas and Electric Company (PG&E), based in San Francisco,California, was the most solar integrated utility in 2008,interconnecting 85 MW of new capacity. What’s more, this valueencompasses over 44 percent of all utilities surveyed. SouthernCalifornia Edison (SCE) and San Diego Gas & Electric were rankedsecond and third, respectively. SCE was ranked first on a cumulativesolar megawatt basis, followed by PG&E and NV Energy, a Nevadautility. Another category of cumulative watts per customer, indicatedthat the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission (SFPU) ranked first,followed by the Port of Oakland, and SCE. Actually, the SFPUC and thePort of Oakland are not typical electrical utilities, servingresidential and commercial customers but rather entities that procureelectricity for community and port accounts. A glaring result of thestudy was that nine of the Top Ten utilities are from California andHawaii in terms of total solar watts per customer.
The unregulated power utility known as Salt River Project(SRP), which is nearly the most predominant in Arizona, was unranked inall categories; however, Arizona Public Service (APS) was ranked sixthin total solar capacity developed in 2008 with 3.56 MW and eighth forcumulative solar assets of 10.6 MW. As a result, SRP has recentlystarted a partnershipwith Stirling Energy Systems to enhance its own RPS using CSPtechnology. In addition, Tucson Electric Power was ranked sixth with4.9 MW in terms of cumulative power being supplied by solar resourceswith respect to the utility-side of the meter through 2008. The fullSEPA report may be accessed at this site.
In other developments across Arizona, the University of Arizona (U of A) in Tucson, has received a major boost from the Recovery Act tobuild a solar research program. It was awarded a $15 million stimulusgrant for five years to enhance the conversion of solar energy toelectricity using hybrid inorganic-organic materials. Leading byexample, the campus will have 500 kW of solar power constructed onbuilding rooftops and for its Olympic-size 600,000 gallon StudentRecreation Center pool. In addition, the campus has committed toconstructing all new buildings with Silver LEED building certification. A new environmental sustainabilityprogram has been created for educating students and greening thecampus as well. Moreover, The U of A has established a Solar TechnologyInstitute and is collaborating with Global Solar, also in Tucson,concerning copper indium gallium diselenide (CIGS) thin-films materialsresearch. Global Solar recently achieved 15.45 percentenergy-conversion efficiency with its innovative CIGS material, asconfirmed at the U.S. Department of Energy’s National Renewable EnergyLab in Golden, Colorado.
For more info: SEPA 2008 Top Ten Utility Solar Integration Rankings, University of Arizona green initiatives, Global Solar
Image: 100% solar powered, affordable housing in San Diego, CA (wordpress.com).
Brian Coppa, Ph.D., has authored many pending U.S. patents,international peer-reviewed journal articles, and industry analysespublications concerning electronic materials and devices and greentechnology, which have received numerous prestigious citations andgarnered numerous invited presentations across the U.S. He is a leadingsenior consultant for GLG Inc. regarding alternative energy andmicroelectronic applications.
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