Solar is becoming an increasingly important part of the electric mix in more of the United States, and the latest data from the U.S. Department of Energy’s Energy Information Administration (EIA) shows that this contribution is still led by Western states.
To date, pv magazine staff know of only one nation that gets more than 10% of its electricity from solar, but three U.S. states accomplished this in the first nine months of 2017. Joining California, which met 13.2% of its demand with both solar PV and massive concentrating solar power (CSP) plants, Nevada and Hawaii reached this milestone in the first nine months of 2017.
Hawaii increased its output from solar PV 37% over the previous year and got 11.6% of its electricity from the sun during Q1-Q3. And despite closing its net metering program and moving to policies that have caused great difficulty to state’s solar installers, small-scale and rooftop solar made up more than 80% of the total output.
This progress can also be seen in light of Hawaii’s mandate for utilities to procure 100% of their electricity from renewable energy sources by 2045. In the first nine months of the year, the island chain got a total of 23% of its electricity from renewable energy, with wind alone meeting roughly 6% of total demand and biomass and geothermal making up much of the rest.
Nevada was not far behind and met 11.3% of its total electric demand with solar, with PV output increasing 27%. The vast majority of this came from large utility-scale PV installations, and CSP plants also made a minor contribution. Nevada is also home to impressive geothermal resources, which met around 9% of the state’s electricity demand.
These three are well ahead of other states, however Arizona met 7.4% of demand with solar during the nine-month period, and Massachusetts grew solar output by more than a third to meet 5.2% of its needs. Vermont, North Carolina and New Jersey all came in at more than 4%.
Across the entire nation, solar PV still represented less than 2% of electricity generation during the first nine months of 2017. However this is a 47% increase over the first nine months of 2016, and if solar were to continuing growing at this rate it would represent 6% of the nation’s demand in 2020, and more than 40% of demand in 2025.
This would require a very different grid than the one that we have today. Both California and Hawaii are undergoing rapid policy changes in the electric sector to attempt to deal with the growth of renewable energy, however the challenges involved are often overstated.
In fact, much of the solar produced in Nevada is likely feeding California’s electricity demand, and recent analyses by First Solar have indicated that with the use of battery storage and a tolerance for a degree of seasonal curtailment built into contracts, solar can meet a much higher portion of demand than previously thought.
The portion of electric demand met by solar may fall in many of these states over the full year, particularly in the Northeast where the days are much shorter during Q4. In other states such as California and Nevada Q4, numbers may actually be higher because of the ongoing pace of solar installation.
California’s three large utilities are on pace to meet 50% of their electricity demand with renewable energy (excluding large hydro) by 2020, so it is likely to remain the leader for some time to come.
Editor’s note: All the data for Q1-Q3 2017 electricity generation and demand in this article comes from the December 2017 edition of the EIA’s Electric Power Monthly and were translated into percentages by the author.