I’ll Follow The Sun: How Does Your Utility Rank On Solar Power?

How much solar energy did your utility add last year?

We know Australia has embraced solar. Germany too. Even Bangladesh has jumped on board. But what about U.S. states and communities?

For the sixth year in a row, you can take a look at the utilities that have done the most to incorporate solar power into their grids, thanks to the Solar Electric Power Association.

2012 was a huge year for utility-based solar in the U.S., with 2.4 gigawatts integrated, bringing the total by the end of 2012 to 6.1 gigawatts nationwide. That number represents over 300,000 solar projects plugged into utility grids.

They are ranked both by total megawatts added, as well as watts-per-customer. This means the big utilities with lots of customers are going to dominate the total megawatts added rankings, because they can invest in large projects. Small utilities have a chance to rise to the top of the rankings that measure solar energy added per-customer. The rankings take into account large-scale solar projects as well as smaller customer net metered projects that anyone could have on their roof.

Here are some key takeaways:

  • 2.4 gigawatts = 8 natural gas plants: Utilities added 2,384 megawatts of solar capacity in 2012, compared to 1,480 in 2011. This can be compared to 8 natural gas-fired power plants.
  • Both big projects and net meters: 1,106 megawatts of the total came from large-scale projects, and 1,151 megawatts came from smaller, customer-sited solar projects. There were far more of the smaller projects – 90,000 small to just 70 large, which gives you a sense of the scale of both how much power is generated from a large project, and how widespread the smaller projects have become. The large-scale projects grew the most from 2011: 250 percent.
  • 88 percent through power purchase agreements: Utilities purchased the vast majority of the solar power on their grid from solar companies — only 12 percent of the projects are owned by the utilities.
  • California domination: Pacific Gas and Electric’s purchase of the 250 megawatt Agua Caliente project (which received loan guarantees from the Department of Energy), the largest solar PV project in the world, represented more than a quarter of its 805 megawatt total. Along with the solar power added by Southern California Edison and Sacramento Municipal Utility District, that brings California’s share to well over 1 gigawatt. PG&E added more in 2012 than the entire country added in 2010. Sacramento had the only municipal utility on the top ten list, largely though its 50MW of large-scale projects.
  • All panels: No projects fueled by concentrated solar power came online last year, though 750 MW worth of projects will be completed this year.
  • Solar power concentrated: 80 percent of the smaller net metered projects were in California, New Jersey, Arizona, Hawaii, and Massachusetts.
  • Northeast Ohio as Silicon Valley of alternative energy?: Looking at the watts-per-customer rankings, the Ohio towns of St. Mary’s, Bryan, and Napoleon all made the top ten, along with utilities in Hawai’i, Tennessee, California, Arizona, and New Jersey. Rural Northeast Ohio is not typically known for investment in solar, but proportionally, it rose to the top in 2012. St. Mary’s dominated, with 562.8 watts-per-customer (Kauai Island Utility was the next highest at 282.1). As Patrick McGowan, Mayor of St. Mary’s put it: “It is my opinion that the City of St. Mary’s should have a diverse energy portfolio embracing various technologies. I feel that Green Energy solutions, including solar power, offer our citizens clean and economical energy.”

The rankings represent 96 percent of the U.S. solar market, with 260 utilities, so while this list is not comprehensive, it is one of the better snapshots of the progression of solar power in America. This year, solar power is likely to be the second-largest new source of energy. Lancaster, California has started to lead on solar power and recently adopted a solar mandate on new construction — perhaps it will make the list in 2013. Solar energy is expanding into communities everywhere, even affordable multifamily housing in Chicago. Now that the solar industry will soon be a net-positive energy source, it is a great opportunity to grow our way into a low-carbon future.

Is your state or city on the ranking’s map? Find out below the jump.

4 Responses to I’ll Follow The Sun: How Does Your Utility Rank On Solar Power?

  1. Michael Glass says:

    Northwest Ohio (not Northeast).

  2. Mike Roddy says:

    Ryan, utility scale solar deployment has been a bust in the Mojave. Remember 2010?

    We had over 4,000 mgw planned. Most aborted, leaving behind bankrupt companies and divisions and new plans for natural gas. Los Angeles even had to extend its dependence on coal for another five years, much of it coming from the old and filthy 2250 mgw plant in Arizona.

    How could this happen? Solar is cheaper now, and prices have plummeted faster than expected.

    Reason: Sabotage by putative environmental organizations. I am preparing an investigative article about it. Enviros challenged every single project- there is always a lizard or tortoise somewhere- causing multiyear delays, cancellations, and enormous mitigation costs.

    I’m writing an investigative piece on this. Interested parties with more information can contact me at

  3. Ed Leaver says:

    Looking forward to your piece, Mike. At the time I was rather puzzled that even The Terminator couldn’t push these things through.

    As an aside, we might remember that nameplate power doesn’t mean a great deal for intermittant renewables such as wind and solar, particularly solar. What matters is the useful work one can extract from an installation: GWh, not GW. (Which is true for any power source.) Doesn’t mean they shouldn’t be deployed, just that they require careful balancing and analysis.

  4. Mulga Mumblebrain says:

    Were these ‘environmental organisations’ genuine, but couldn’t see the wood for the trees, or Astroturf frauds mobilised by the Right? How much of the land slated for renewable deployment was really biodiverse and deserving of preservation, and how much derelict, exploited, land? The latter is something I’ve never seen explained. Just how much of the suitable land really deserves to be left alone?