Cost and Public Demand Driving New Solar South

March 22, 2018


Utility Dive:

The remarkable transition that utilities in the Southeast are undergoing is a powerful indicator of the profound changes happening in the nation’s power sector.

The Southeast had 200 MW of solar capacity in 2012, but led by North Carolina’s Duke Energy utilities and Georgia Power, it had 6 GW at the end of 2017, according to Solar in the Southeast, released in February by the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy (SACE). Even utilities not aggressively building solar now realize customers want solar — it is affordable, and there are ways it can serve utility purposes.

Utilities in the Southeast are responding to rising customer demand for renewables by capturing the economic opportunity in a solar resource second only to sun in the desert Southwest in the United States. Existing contracts and commitments promise over 10 GW of solar capacity in the Southeast by 2019 and as much as 15 GW by 2021, according to SACE. The growth has been and will continue to be almost entirely in utility-scale solar.

Utilities in the conservative Southeast have taken little notice of solar beyond its ability to meet growing residential and commercial customer demand at increasingly attractive prices. A third factor, which has emerged only recently in the wake of climate change-driven extreme storms and power outages, is solar’s potential resilience value. While the overall national trend for solar installations is upward, there have been some hiccups recently.

Total solar installations across the U.S. fell from 15 GW in 2016 to 10.6 GW in 2017, driven partly by uncertainty over tariffs on solar cells and modules that were eventually imposed in January by the Trump Administration. Other factors impacting solar growth include changes in state incentives and net metering policies, according to a new report from GTM and the Solar Energy Industries Association.

Due to the tariffs and recent tax changes, GTM has lowered its forecast for total photovoltaic installations in the U.S. from 2018 to 2022 by 13%.

2017 installations across the U.S. were still about 40% higher than the number in 2015, but the biggest obstacles to growth are the absence of supportive policy and diminishing utility load.


The reason why the sunny U.S. Southeast resisted solar power for years is the same reason that explains its about-face: cost.

The region was long the country’s smallest solar market, in part because state regulators argued it was just too expensive. Now that prices have come down sharply, area utilities are embracing power from the sun.

Virginia is the latest southeast state planning a solar shift, with a law this month calling for 5.5 gigawatts of wind and solar power. Florida recently replaced an expensive coal-fired plant with cheap solar power, and developers are eyeing South Carolina, where a $20 billion nuclear power project was abandoned last year. Meanwhile, First Solar Inc., the largest U.S. panel producer, is developing a solar farm in Georgia that’s expected to be the region’s biggest.

“This is really all about cost competitiveness,” Colin Meehan, First Solar’s director of regulatory & public affairs, said during a panel discussion Tuesday at Infocast’s Solar Power Finance & Investment Summit in San Diego.

WRAL Raleigh:

North Carolina is second in solar power generation across the US, according to a new report.

The state ranks second to California and rose from fourth place in 2016, according to the Solar Energy Industries Association.

Solar providers boosted North Carolina’s capacity by more than 1,200 megawatts last year, up from 1,014 megawatts being added in 2016.

California is by far the largest provider.

Sean Gallagher, SEIA’s vice president of state affairs in North Carolina, told The Asheville Citizen-Times that growth is being driven in most part by utility-scale development.


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