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Survey: utilities doubled solar power capacity in 2011

An April 18 report from the Solar Electric Power Association (SEPA) found that in 2011 utilities connected 120 percent more solar capacity than the previous year, setting a record annual growth rate.

The fifth annual Utility Solar Rankings looks at the amount of new solar power interconnected by U.S. electric utilities in 2011. It covers more than 99% of the U.S. solar electric power marketplace.

Last year, utilities interconnected more than 62,000 new PV systems, resulting in almost 1,500 MW of new utility solar capacity. This new capacity represents a 120 percent increase over 2010. The report says that these figures “make solar electricity the fastest growing electric source in the U.S. in 2011.”

“In addition to the photovoltaic systems added by customers and third-party producers, much of the growth has come from the direct actions of utilities,” said Julia Hamm, SEPA President and CEO.

2011 Top 10 Solar Rankings. Credit: SEPA

Utilities owning or contracting for solar power made up 39 percent of the new solar capacity, a large part of which is solar projects over 10 MW each.

“This is a marked shift from a few years ago, when customer-owned, net-metered systems dominated installed solar generation,” said Hamm. “Today, utilities are taking a greater role in the expansion of solar power in the United States.”

The top 10 utilities added over 1,000 MW of capacity, and the 240 utilities surveyed added almost 1,500 MW in total. That’s equivalent to about six natural gas power plants.

“SEPA’s findings clearly show that utilities with growing solar resources represent a cross-section of the industry – investor-owned, municipal and rural electric cooperative utilities, large and small, from coast to coast,” said Hamm. “Their success is showing that solar can be a generation resource today for virtually any utility.”

The report predicts that this increase in utility-led initiatives will continue thanks to sustained price decreases and the completion of large scale solar projects now in development.

“A few years ago, the solar integrated into the grid was dominated by customer-owned, net metered systems, but there is a marked shift toward the utility-side of the meter as utilities influence solar markets in new ways,” said the report.

See SEPA’s full lists here.

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