Utilities Poised to Brighten U.S. Solar Market

By Jennifer Kho of Earth2Tech on December 5, 2009

It looks like utilities are poised to drive the U.S. solar market in coming years, based on a new report from Emerging Energy Research that predicts utilities will add 21.5 GW of photovoltaic capacity by 2020, up from only 77 MW of utility-driven PV projects in operation today. The report released Thursday confirms the trend we noted back in October, and the projections are huge considering that the United States made up only 360 MW of demand last year, according to Solarbuzz.

U.S. utilities already have announced more than 4.8 GW of large PV projects in the works, according to the Emerging Energy Research report. The firm forecasts that utilities will play a key role in shaping the changing landscape of solar power and estimates the U.S. PV market – led by utility activity – will grow from 2 GW in 2011 to a whopping 12 GW in 2015. That compares to a worldwide solar market of 5.8 GW in 2008, according to Photon Consulting’s Solar Annual 2009. Photon projects the global PV market will reach 8.6 GW this year and 44.9 GW in 2011, meaning that the U.S. would make up more than a quarter of the world market in 2011 if Emerging Energy Research’s forecasts are on target, up from about 6 percent last year.

Unsurprisingly, Emerging Energy Research expects state renewable portfolio standards — which require utilities to get varying percentages of their electricity from renewable sources — to be the primary driver for the boost. California, for example, aims to get 33 percent of its electricity from renewables by 2020 (utilities are expected to miss the previous target of 20 percent by 2010). Municipal utility Los Angeles Department of Water and Power, as well as all three of the state’s investor-owned electric utilities — Pacific Gas & Electric, Southern California Edison and San Diego Gas & Electric — have announced PV initiatives. All together, those utility projects make up approximately 75 percent of the U.S. photovoltaic pipeline, according to the report.

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