Utilities add 781 MW of solar power to U.S. grid

Everyone knows that solar energy is the way to go, but the costs and effort to build projects is a challenge. A combination of Federal and State investment tax credits and State Renewable Energy Portfolio requirements have encourage electric utilities to take the plunge. It's only 781 megawatts of capacity, but at least things are moving beyond California when when it comes to solar.

Utilities added 781 megawatts (MW) of new solar capacity in 2010 according to the Solar Electric Power Association. New utility-owned solar doubled from 2009 to 140 MW, owned by 30 utilities. The remaining additions were through long-term power purchase agreements with private merchant generators or customer-sited installations.

Historically utilities included mostly power purchase agreements and a small share from customer locations. Recent federal tax changes that allow utilities to claim investment tax credits created an opportunity for utility-scale solar investment as a business model.

Sixteen states and the <?xml:namespace prefix = st1 />District of Columbia use solar set-asides in renewable portfolio standards (RPS) to mandate solar energy. The RPS specifies an amount or percentage of the RPS to come from solar power. RPS were responsible for the large growth of wind power in States like Texas.

Map of best solar potovoltaic resources

As a result of State RPS’, the growth in solar shifted beyond California in 2010.  States such as New Jersey, Colorado, Arizona and Florida are benefitting from policies that promote solar growth. Also noteworthy in 2010 was the growth of utility-scale photovoltaic projects and concentrating solar plants. Eight large projects (more than 10 MW) totaling 226 MW went online after many years of few to no large projects being built.