The Minnesota Department of Commerce released a preliminary summary of its rapidly growing photovoltaic resources last week. The Land Of Ten Thousand Lakes doesn’t have 10,000 PV systems yet, but it’s on its way. Minnesota reached 717 MW-DC of capacity through the end of 2017, and is projected to crack 1 Gigawatt (GW) some time this year. A major factor in growth has been the rapid increase of community solar projects after several years of program and market development.
The story of Minnesota’s meteoric rise in PV has been in the years 2016 and 2017. The total capacity of PV through 2015 was only an estimated 36 MW. In 2016, 209 MW was installed, and more than doubled to 471 MW installed in 2017. The growth has been largely due to the utility and especially the new community solar market segments. In 2016, utility sector solar was 151 MW and community solar was 42 MW. In 2017, community solar overtook utility scale solar with 250 MW and 206 MW, respectively. The residential sector was well behind with 16 MW installed in 2016 and 15 MW in 2017. It should be noted that community solar is more a type of system rather than size.
Community solar is designed to directly serve the accounts of multiple subscribers from one installation, and the size of the system can range from as small as 20 kW capacity to MW scale. Utility scale systems tend to be in the MW range and supply PV electricity to a service territory or a specific large user through a power purchase agreement. The Minnesota Department of Commerce estimates that about 94 MW-AC of community solar projects are in various stages of development.
Through 2017, Minnesota had an estimated total of 3,683 PV installations, of which 1,920 are residential and the balance non-residential. Estimates of system size breakdown are as follows: 9 systems over 10 MW, 53 systems between 1 and 10 MW, 11 between 500kW and 1 MW, 22 between 250 and 500 kW, 26 between 100 and 250 kW, 21 between 50 and 100 kW, 289 between between 25 and 50 kW, 344 between 10 and 25 kW, and about 1,554 below 10 kW. The impressive growth of the Minnesota PV market won’t place it among the top 10 solar states, which have already exceeded or neared 1 GW of capacity in 2016, but places it as a leader in the burgeoning Midwest solar market.