Alaska doubles solar capacity in 2016

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The Land of the Midnight Sun may never compete with California, Arizona or even Georgia. Reports out of Alaska, however, do point to the possibility that a vibrant solar industry could be taking hold.

Alaska’s largest utility, Chugach Energy Association, a Touchstone Energy Cooperative, reports that installations connected to the grid in Alaska doubled to 70 in the past year, driven in part by rising electricity prices combined with state and federal incentive programs. Public-housing projects are driving much of the growth. According to The Alaska Dispatch-News:

Since 2013, the Alaska Housing Finance Corp. has supported the construction of about 20 solar energy projects in Anchorage and across the state, often for low-income housing. The housing finance agency was encouraged to pursue solar energy when people realized it works well even in cloudy weather, said Daniel Delfino, AHFC director of planning and program development.

“A critical mass of these projects with these very visible features are starting to sprout up,” Delfino said. “We’re fielding more questions on solar than in any year I’ve seen.”

Traditionally an oil-and-gas state, solar’s growth might come as a surprise to some.

According to the United States Solar Market Insight report (USSMI), a joint study by the Solar Energy Industries Association and GTM Research, Alaska currently supports 13 solar firms that have 330 kW of solar capacity were installed in 2015, a 49% increase over 2014.  The report also says Alaska ranks 45th nationally in 2015 installed solar capacity.

Of the solar capacity installed in Alaska in 2015, 261 kW were residential and 69 kW were commercial and $1 million was invested on solar installations in Alaska, according to the USSMI. The Solar Foundation’s National Solar Jobs Census found that the number of jobs increased 94% in 2016 from 2015, though judging by the numbers that wouldn’t be hard. In 2015, the state supported 33 jobs, and in 2016 it supported 64.

Still, at least one installer told The Dispatch-News that he believes solar is Alaska’s “secret weapon.”

Since getting his Alaska business license in April, [Anchorage Solar owner Ben May] been hired to work on more than 10 projects, often for residential jobs. He’ll soon be installing solar panels along a southeast-facing wall at Bosco’s comic book shop on Spenard, owned by Anchorage Assembly member John Weddleton.

People are surprised how well solar power works in Alaska, especially in spring as light-reflecting snow supplements sunshine, May said. The systems operate more efficiently in cold weather, too, helping squeeze more electricity from the limited sun.

During hours of peak sunlight on recent sunny days, panels at a system he installed in Bethel are slightly exceeding their power rating, a rare feat, he said.

“We are in the period of Alaska’s secret weapon right now,” he said. “It’s early March and we’re just killing it.”

An analysis of the Department of Labor and Workforce Development Research and Analysis report from 2015 – the latest year for which data was available – shows the mean wages for potential solar installers in Alaska, including roofers, electrical installers, frequently exceed the mean wages for most workers in the

The Database of State Incentives for Renewables & Efficiency (DSIRE), compiled by the NC Clean Energy Technology Center (NCCETC), reveals that the state has four solar/renewable-energy-targeted programs, including: