PG&E Tops 2008 SEPA Rankings

Pacific Gas and Electric Company (NYSE: PCG), based in San Francisco, California, was the most solar integrated utility for the year 2008, interconnecting 85 megawatts (MW) of new capacity, according to rankings released by the Solar Electric Power Association (SEPA).

Southern California Edison–an Edison International company (NYSE: EIX)–and San Diego Gas & Electric–a subsidiary of Sempra Energy (NYSE: SRE)–were second and third.

Pacific Gas and Electric Company accounted for over 44% of the survey total.

SEPA’s "2008 Top Ten Utility Solar Integration Rankings" report identifies the utilities in the U.S. that have the most significant amounts of solar electricity integrated into their portfolio, and records the increased collaboration of the U.S. electric utility and solar energy industries.

The report found that many utilities doubled the amount of solar power in their portfolio in just one year. The overall installed solar capacity of the top ten ranked utilities rose from 711 MW to 882 MW, reflecting 25% growth. Ninety-two utilities participated in this year’s survey, an increase of more than 80% over last year, showing that the utility industry’s interest in solar power is stronger than ever, SEPA said.

"This year’s report demonstrates that solar electricity is finally on the radar screen of utilities across the country," said Julia Hamm, executive director of the Solar Electric Power Association. "Solar plants large and small are ready for significant build-out, and the utility industry is moving quickly toward mass adoption to meet a variety of business needs."

The report also documents a wave of utility-driven installations, pointing to the growing importance of utilities in the solar power market, and the growing importance of solar power to the business of utilities. Historically, the solar power market has been dominated by customer-driven installations.

"Residential and commercial photovoltaic projects will continue to be important stimulants for job creation and small business growth, but they will be complemented by large-scale photovoltaic and concentrating solar power projects," said Mike Taylor, director of research and education at SEPA. "The variety of ways solar power is being implemented signals an increased maturity in the market."

This year’s report shows that 2008 solar power growth came almost entirely from thousands of distributed generation projects, which grow more steadily and consistently than centralized plants. However, SEPA anticipates that in future years centralized solar electric plants will play an equal or larger role.

"Traditional fossil-fuel power plants come in two sizes, large and larger," said report author Mike Taylor. "The solar market is more vigorous, complex and democratic because of the combination of distributed generation and large-scale projects."

Large-scale centralized solar plants will allow utilities to jump up in the rankings quickly, but are currently at an earlier stage of development with most large-scale projects in the contract or construction phase.

SEPA said solar power is entering a similar growth phase as wind power did a few years ago, with a dramatic increase in capacity expected.

This year’s report is based on the 2008 Utility Solar Electricity Survey completed by utilities in April 2009. The report catalogs how much solar electricity was interconnected by surveyed utilities in calendar year 2008 and what was installed cumulatively up through the end of 2008, including both photovoltaics and concentrating solar power. It includes all solar electricity generation integrated into the utility’s portfolio regardless of whether it was owned by the utility, their customer, or a third-party company, and regardless of whether it was installed on the utility or customer side of the meter.

Results

For the solar watts-per-customer category in 2008, the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission (SFPUC), a water utility that provides electrical generation to its municipal buildings, ranked first with almost 2700 watts per customer for its 340 customer sites. SFPUC has invested in many PV projects with the assistance of state incentive programs to achieve this coverage for its city buildings.

Second and third were Kauai Island Utility Cooperative in Hawaii and Palo Alto Utilities in Northern California.

On a cumulative solar megawatt basis, Southern California Edison was ranked first, followed by Pacific Gas & Electric and NV Energy, a Nevada utility.

Cumulatively in watts per customer, SFPUC ranked first again, followed by the Port of Oakland, and Southern California Edison. Both the SFPUC and the Port of Oakland are not electrical utilities in the traditional sense, serving residential and commercial customers, but entities that procure electricity for their municipal and port accounts.

For the first time this year, the report provided separate rankings for what was installed in calendar year 2008 and what was installed cumulatively up through the end of 2008.

Participating utilities had an average of 11 MW in their cumulative portfolio, and the Top Ten utilities represented 93% of all solar capacity. Because of their head-start, the large investor-owned utilities in California are likely to retain a lead in the overall cumulative rankings even as the year-to-year rankings shift.

 

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