Solar, Wind Provided Over Half Of New U.S. Capacity In Q1
Wind and solar power provided more than half of the new electrical generating capacity added to the U.S. grid during the first quarter of the year, says a new report from the SUN DAY Campaign, citing statistics from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC).
According to the nonprofit’s analysis of FERC’s latest Energy Infrastructure Update, which offers data through March 31, wind and solar provided a total of 50.84% of the new electrical generating capacity during the quarter.
The organization says 13 units of wind, totaling 1,479 MW, combined with 62 units of solar, totaling 939 MW, exceeded the 2,235 MW provided by 21 units of natural gas and 102 MW provided by one unit of nuclear power. There was also 1 MW of capacity from other sources, such as fuel cells.
Notably, SUN DAY says that in the first three months of the year, no new generating capacity was provided by coal, oil, hydropower, biomass or geothermal.
Moreover, the pace of growth of new solar and wind capacity is accelerating, according to the report. For the first quarter of 2017, new capacity from those sources was 18.07% greater than that added during the same three-month period in 2016 (2,418 MW vs. 2048 MW).
Renewable sources (biomass, geothermal, hydropower, solar and wind) now account for almost one-fifth (19.51%) of the nation’s total available installed generating capacity: hydropower at 8.48%, wind at 7.12%, solar at 2.17%, biomass at 1.41% and geothermal at 0.33%, the report says.
By comparison, at the end of 2016, renewables provided 19.17% of the total generating capacity. If current growth rates continue, renewables should top 20% before the end of this year, according to SUN DAY.
Further, generating capacity by renewable sources is now more than double that of nuclear power (9.10%) and is rapidly approaching that of coal (24.25%), the analysis adds.
“The Trump administration’s efforts to reboot coal and expand oil drilling continue to be proven wrong-headed in light of the latest FERC data,” comments Ken Bossong, executive director of the SUN DAY Campaign. “Once more, renewables – led by wind and solar – have proven themselves to be the energy sources making America great again.”
In another recent report citing FERC data, the nonprofit said newly installed capacity from renewable sources totaled 61.5% of all new U.S. capacity added in 2016.
SUN DAY notes that generating capacity is not the same as actual generation: Electrical production per megawatt of available capacity (i.e., capacity factor) for renewables is often lower than that for fossil fuels and nuclear power. For instance, neither FERC nor the U.S. Energy Information Administration fully accounts for all electricity generated by smaller-scale, distributed renewable energy sources. FERC’s data, for example, is limited to plants with a nameplate capacity of 1 MW or greater and thereby fails to include distributed sources such as rooftop solar, the organization explains.
Community Solar Program Sells Out Within A Month
There’s no denying that community solar is quickly catching on as a viable alternative to rooftop solar all across the country. Underscoring that growing interest among consumers, utility El Paso Electric (EPE) has announced that subscriptions for its new community solar pilot program sold out fast – only a month after enrollment began.
“We’re very excited to see that our customers have really embraced community solar,” says Mary Kipp, the utility’s CEO. “The quick subscription time demonstrates our community’s interest in different options that provide more accessibility to solar power.”
The pilot program included the development of a 3 MW community solar project, located in El Paso, Texas. EPE, whose service territory includes parts of Texas and New Mexico, says the voluntary program is available to all of its Texas customers – homeowners, renters and business owners. The utility notes customers can still sign up for the program online but will be placed on a waiting list. If capacity becomes available at a later time, these customers will be contacted on a first-come, first-served basis.
Solar Spectrum Concludes Buyout Of Sungevity
Following approval from a bankruptcy court, California-based rooftop solar company Sungevity Inc. has sold substantially all of its assets to Solar Spectrum, a newly formed company backed by an investment group led by Minnesota-based private equity firm Northern Pacific Group.
After losing a deal to become a public company and raise much-needed capital, Sungevity filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in March, and according to reports, the court recently signed off on Sungevity’s $50 million sale to the Northern Pacific-led consortium. The investment group includes Hercules Capital and DGB Investments, a wholly owned investment vehicle of Douglas Bergeron, former VeriFone chairman and CEO.
Under the terms of the transaction, Solar Spectrum has acquired Sungevity’s infrastructure, technology, installer network, supplier warranties and certain agreements. In an announcement, Solar Spectrum says it intends to hire the substantial majority of current Sungevity employees, and the company has also acquired Sungevity’s European businesses and will continue to operate them under their current branding.
Separately, Solar Spectrum says it intends to reach out to all current users of Sungevity solutions in the U.S. to offer an attractively priced warranty solution.
Solar Spectrum’s management team is led by CEO Patrick McGivern, former head of operations at Fitbit, and President and COO William Nettles, former general manager and head of acquisitions at VeriFone. McGivern states the transaction “marks a new beginning for this business.”
“I am proud to lead a new player in the residential solar market that has a healthy balance sheet and a competitive value proposition,” he says. “We thank our employees, customers and partners for their patience and for their continued support and commitment. Together, we will focus on building a sustainable and successful business at the forefront of solar as the industry continues to grow.”
Minnesota Experiences ‘Dramatic’ Solar Growth
On a sunny Minnesota spring day, with solar panels in the background, Minnesota Commerce Commissioner Mike Rothman announced that the state is enjoying dramatic growth in solar power, adding nearly as much new solar capacity in just the first three months of 2017 as in all of 2016.
Rothman announced the latest solar statistics at the Schneiderman’s Furniture store in Plymouth, a Twin Cities suburb, in May. With support from state solar incentives, the family-owned furniture retailer has installed rooftop solar power systems at its Plymouth, Woodbury and Duluth stores in partnership with Minnesota-based commercial solar developer Ideal Energies.
“Solar is already a bright spot in Minnesota’s energy picture, and it’s getting even bigger and brighter,” said Rothman, whose agency includes the state energy office. “Minnesota is enjoying dramatic solar growth from residential, commercial, community solar and utility-scale projects. This solar growth is being driven by both innovative public policies and market forces, as solar becomes more and more cost competitive. What used to be called alternative energy isn’t alternative anymore. It’s mainstream.”
Rothman added, “Solar provides positive results for both our environment and our economy. Solar jobs in Minnesota increased 44 percent in 2016, with nearly 4,000 Minnesotans now employed in the industry. Solar presents our state with a tremendous opportunity for a clean, sustainable and job-creating energy future.”
According to data compiled by the Commerce Department, Minnesota added 203 MW of new solar electric capacity in the first quarter of 2017, compared to 207 MW during all of 2016. The state’s total solar capacity has grown from just 1 MW in 2009 to 447 MW as of March 31, with more than 800 MW projected by the end of the year.
Rothman said state and federal clean energy policies have helped spur Minnesota’s solar market growth by promoting technical advances, driving down costs, and increasing consumer and business demand. In 2013, Minnesota passed the Solar Energy Standard that requires investor-owned utilities to obtain 1.5% of their electric power from solar by the end of 2020, with a goal of 10% by 2030.
The bulk of new Minnesota solar in 2016 came from large utility-scale projects, including the 100 MW North Star solar project in Chisago County. According to utility filings, solar capacity in Minnesota is expected to increase by about 600 MW in 2017, with much of the new generation coming from many smaller (1 MW to 5 MW) community solar projects currently under construction. If projections are met, utility Xcel Energy will likely exceed the state’s 1.5% Solar Energy Standard by the end of 2017 – three years ahead of deadline.
Although solar currently provides less than 1% of the state’s total electricity, costs are dropping fast and the market is expanding rapidly, making it a growing contributor to Minnesota’s renewable energy portfolio.
“Solar power in Minnesota today is where wind power was 10 to 20 years ago,” said Rothman. “Wind now provides nearly 18 percent of Minnesota’s total electricity generation. Solar has the potential to grow even faster and larger in the years ahead. The classic Beatles/George Harrison song says it best: Here comes the sun.”