Southwest states drive surge in new PV capacity

Arizona made one of the biggest gains in new solar installations.

Energy Prospects West

The solar-energy market enjoyed its second-best performance in history during the second quarter of 2012, driven by a boom in utility solar-photovoltaic installations in California and Arizona, a study released Sept. 10 shows.

The industry installed 741.7 MW of solar PV panels nationally during the quarter, up 45 percent over the first quarter of this year and up 116 percent over the second quarter of last year, according to a report from GTM Research and the Solar Energy Industries Association.

Utility-market PV installations added 477 MW of the 742 MW installed nationally during the second quarter, a new record, according to the U.S. Solar Market Insight Report.

California was responsible for more than 29 percent of the national total, setting a new record for itself with 216.8 MW of PV connected to the grid during the quarter. That figure included 128.6 MW of utility-scale capacity, the study said.

Aerial view of Mesquite Solar I

Arizona made one of the biggest gains in new solar installations, as new capacity climbed by 172.7 MW, compared to the 62.6 MW added in the first quarter this year and 26 MW in the second quarter last year.

The report attributed Arizona’s gain to completion of the 66.7-MW second phase of Mesquite Solar I at Phoenix and the 80.5-MW second phase of Agua Caliente 65 miles east of Yuma.

“This is the first time Arizona has ranked second in the country in solar installation,” Leisa Brug, energy policy adviser to Gov. Jan Brewer, said in an email.

Both Arizona PV plants are selling power to Pacific Gas & Electric.

The Arizona governor supports the export of renewable energy to other states, because she wants Arizona to become the nation’s “solar capital,” Brug said.

New Jersey ranked third, but residential and nonresidential customer-sited PV accounted for 90.1 MW of its 102.5-MW total.

Nevada ranked fourth with 61.2 MW of additional PV capacity, of which 60 MW were utility projects.

New Mexico added 16.9 MW of solar capacity during the second quarter, including 15.3 MW of utility projects in the first quarter.

Nine of the largest 15 utility PV projects completed in the second quarter were located in California, Arizona, Nevada or New Mexico, and all will provide power to utilities serving those Southwest states. PG&E alone is taking power from five projects with a total of 208 MW in capacity.

In addition, PG&E will draw electricity from six of the 10 largest PV projects under construction in the United States, while San Diego Gas & Electric will use power from the other four under construction.

PG&E spokesman Denny Boyles said the company is rapidly securing additional solar power so that it can meet the California renewables portfolio standard, which requires utilities to obtain 33 percent of their power from renewable resources by 2020.

“We are proud of the growth, but it’s something that we have been working on for a long time,” Boyles said. “Our commitment to solar is highly visible and ongoing.”

Meanwhile, NV Energy “has developed one of the most diversified and robust renewable energy portfolios for a utility of our size,” Bobby Hollis, NV Energy renewable-energy executive, said in an email.

“In fact, Nevada has seen more than 90 megawatts of new solar projects come on line this year so far, and we expect an additional 150 or more megawatts of solar energy to be added to our system in the next year or two,” Hollis said.

While utility projects accounted for the largest portion of growth nationally, the residential market grew gradually. The study called California’s residential market “one of the steadiest in the country.” The state led the nation in the residential category with 41 MW of solar capacity installed during the quarter, up from 39.1 MW installed in the first quarter.

Residential power users are increasingly turning to companies that install and lease solar panels on homes, rather than purchasing the solar installations with cash, according to the report.

“Third-party ownership has taken the residential solar space by storm, particularly in the last year and a half,” the study states.

In California, 73.3 percent of new residential installations during the second quarter were leased, rather than purchased by homeowners, compared to 44.9 percent in the same period last year.

In Arizona, the residential solar-system leasing sector has gained an even larger 85.5-percent market share, compared with 38.1 percent in the same quarter last year.

In addition, the study found that the installed costs for leased systems in California came in 20 cents lower than the $5.84/watt costs for residential direct purchases during the latest quarter. However, Arizona residents who purchased solar PV paid $4.78/watt, compared with $5.36 for third-party leased systems.

In the nonresidential PV market, California added 47.2 MW of capacity in the second quarter; Arizona recorded 9.7 MW; Nevada installed 1.2 MW; and New Mexico 500 kW.

The study also made forecasts about the growth in PV capacity.

The Grand Canyon State is expected to bring on line 333 MW of PV capacity at utility, residential and nonresidential installations next year, down 18 percent from 2012.

In California, PV installations are forecast to climb 42 percent to 1,900 MW next year.

Only one new concentrating PV plant came on line in the United States during the first six months of 2012, according to the report. It was the 30-MW Alamosa Solar Project at the similarly named Colorado city.

No concentrating solar-thermal plants were completed in the U.S. during the first half of the year. However, the study counted more than 9 GW of plants planned around the country. That pipeline includes 5,300 MW of CSP projects with signed power-purchase agreements.

Several CSP projects are scheduled to become operational in 2013, the study said. They include the 250-MW Solano Generating Station near Gila Bend, Ariz.; Ivanpah Solar Electric Generating System 2 and 3, southwest of Las Vegas in California, with a total of 300 MW; the 110-MW Crescent Dunes Solar Energy Project near Tonopah, Nev.; and the 125-MW Phase 1 of the Genesis Solar Energy Project near Blythe, Calif.


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September 2012