When it comes to integrating solar power into the energy distribution system, the solar PV array that the homeowner or building owner installs is only one part of the equation, because the local electric utility company is a key component of this renewable energy revolution. Without participating utilities, home solar would be relegated to standalone solar systems with integrated battery storage, and solar producers would have to keep their energy demands well within their production capacity.
Fortunately, electric utility companies have been a prime mover in residential solar, and net metering rules and solar incentives have helped to grow solar energy production from a fringe element to a somewhat mainstream choice. However, not all utility companies are integrating solar power into their energy sources at the same rate, as recent news from the Solar Electric Power Association (SEPA) highlights.
SEPA recently released some of the data from an analysis of US electric utilities that have integrated new solar power capacity last year (2013), and found that the top 10 utilities accounted for 82% of the added solar capacity, and the top three solar utility producers come from the western half of the US.
By using the amount of megawatts produced from solar energy by each utility, the SEPA analysis produced a “Top 10 by Solar Megawatt” list. Ranked at the top of the list (for its sixth year in a row), is California’s Pacific Gas and Electric Company (PG&E), with 1470.6 MW of solar, followed by San Diego Gas and Electric Company (SDG&E), with 642.5 MW, and Arizona Public Service (APS) with 416.8 MW.
“We are firmly committed to renewable energy and solar is a vital part of California’s energy mix. Given both PG&E’s large-scale solar procurement and our customers’ ongoing support of solar and other clean technologies, we are confident we will continue to be a renewable energy leader.” – Steve Malnight, PG&E’s Vice President of Customer Energy Solutions
Following those top three solar electric utilities, seven other utilities made the list, including Southern California Edison (SCE), Duke Energy Progress, National Grid, Public Service Electric and Gas Company (PSE&G), Hawaiian Electric Company, Georgia Power, and Duke Energy Carolinas. Three of those companies, Duke Energy Progress, National Grid, and Georgia Power, were new to the rankings this year.
Although the list was topped by some very large utilities, also released by SEPA was a list of utilities ranked by Solar Watts-Per-Customer, which levels the playing field a bit by taking into account the number of customers each utility serves, relative to the amount of solar megawatts installed by that utility.
Topping that weighted list is Sterling Municipal Light Department (SMLD), which serves just 3700 customers in Massachusetts, but has installed 830.5 W per customer, which is almost double that of the second ranked utility, SDG&E, with 461.5 W per customer installed, and the capacity of number three, Silicon Valley Power, with 426.5 W per customer.
Rounding out those Top Solar Watts-Per-Customer rankings were Arizona Public Service (APS), Hawaiian Electric Company, Pacific Gas and Electric Company (PG&E), Hawaii Electric Light, Maui Electric Company, Kauai Island Utility Cooperative (KIUC), and Imperial Irrigation District (IID).
For more information about solar utilities, see this SEPA infographic (PDF).