N.C. ranks second nationwide for solar on the power grid

Published 10:38 am Thursday, September 22, 2016

By John Downey
Charlotte Business Journal

North Carolina added about 115 megawatts worth of new solar capacity to its power grid in the second quarter and holds second place in the nation for the total amount of installed solar.

According to the most recent Solar Market Insight quarterly report released by the Solar Energy Industries Association and GTM Research, the nation overall added about 1,640 megawatts of new solar capacity.

“We’re seeing the beginning of an unprecedented wave of growth that will occur throughout the remainder of 2016, specifically within the utility … segment,” says Cory Honeyman, GTM Research associate director of U.S. solar research. “With more than 10 gigawatts of utility (scale solar) currently under construction, the second half of this year and the first half of 2017 are on track to continue breaking records for solar capacity additions.”

North Carolina could be on track for a record year in 2016, according to some recent filings by the state’s largest utilities. But Austin Perea, a U.S. solar analyst with GTM, says his organization projects N.C. developers to build about 630 megawatts worth of new capacity (calculated in alternating current) this year. That would be down from the 900 megawatts built in 2015.

As usual, California’s total for the quarter dwarfed all comers in the quarter. That state alone saw about 775 megawatts of new solar installation.

A year ago, North Carolina ranked fourth overall for installed solar. Since then, it has passed Arizona (now third at more than 1.7 gigawatts) and New Jersey (now fourth at almost 1.5 gigawatts) to claim the second spot. Nevada ranks fifth for total installed capacity at more than 1.1 gigawatts.

North Carolina now has more than 1.9 gigawatts worth of solar capacity installed.

For the quarter, Utah, with about 103 megawatts of new capacity, jumped up into the top five for new installations to rank third behind North Carolina. That is an unaccustomed place for Utah, which ranks 15th overall in the nation for installed solar capacity. New Jersey and Nevada round out the top five for the quarter.

South Carolina, where the state government has taken steps in the last year to support more solar construction, jumped up to ninth place for the quarter, with about 38 megawatts worth of new solar. In the first quarter, South Carolina ranked 24th for new installations.

Overall, South Carolina still ranks 33rd in the nation with 52 megawatts of total solar capacity on its grid.

The report says that 53% of the new solar installations in the quarter nationwide involved utility-scale solar. In North Carolina, however, utility scale solar accounts for almost all of the new installations, says Perea. The state has relatively little residential or commercial-scale solar.

The state should continue to see healthy solar construction through 2017 and beyond on the utility side, Perea says. “Duke Energy just came out with its long-range plan and they are looking at significant new procurement for solar,” he says. “They are the primary driver for solar development in the state and we expect that to continue.”

He said another southern state, Georgia, should have a particularly good year in 2016. GTM projects about 800 megawatts of new solar capacity for the state in 2016, as Southern Co. subsidiary Georgia Power has announced aggressive solar construction plans.

SMI reports the total megawatts of direct current produced by projects. So the quarterly report says, for instance, that North Carolina has more than 2.4 gigawatts of installed solar capacity.

But the convention in the utility industry is to count just the alternating current produced because the current must be converted to alternating before it can go on the grid. Some of the direct current capacity is lost in that conversion.

The Charlotte Business Journal follows the utility practice and calculates a rough alternating current total from the report’s direct current figures.