2016 – A Bright Year for Solar in Georgia
When Southface started building a database to track Georgia’s installed solar capacity in 2012, we were hunting for kilowatts (kWs). We sifted through hundreds of documents; no installation was too small. If we identified a 0.01 kW solar attic fan, we added it to our tally. We only had six solar projects that were one megawatt (MW) or more, none exceeded 2 MWs and the vast majority of the installations were on rooftops. We built a website to showcase this solar capacity data, and more, called GeorgiaEnergyData.org. It showed that by the end of 2012, Georgia had 23 MW of installed solar capacity.
Four years later, GeorgiaEnergyData.org shows that we have more than 1,100 MW of installed solar capacity. The Peach State is likely one of the first 10 to reach one gigawatt (GW). Arizona, California, Nevada, New Jersey, North Carolina and Massachusetts were well past this milestone at the beginning of 2016. Texas and Utah likely passed it sometime during 2016, and Georgia passed 1 GW in December.
While every kW still matters, Southface personnel are no longer getting paper cuts. And what used to be impressive—a 1 MW system—is now routine. Thanks largely to Georgia Power Company’s various initiatives that were approved by the Public Service Commission in 2012 and 2013, Georgia’s utility-scale projects have blossomed. Georgia’s Electric Membership Corporations (EMCs) are also major contributors to added utility-scale solar capacity in the state. In fact, the largest solar farm east of the Mississippi, the 146 MW Sandhills Solar Facility in Taylor County, will sell power to five Georgia EMCs.
As we celebrate this historic achievement for Georgia, here are some interesting statistics to show what Georgia’s solar landscape looks like based on the data available at GeorgiaEnergyData.org.
Solar Electricity in (Almost) Every County
Of Georgia’s 159 counties, 144 have at least one solar photovoltaic installation. Given that our database does not have every solar installation in the state, it is also possible that solar electricity generation has reached every county. Sixteen counties have more than 10 MWs of installed solar capacity and 60 counties have between 1 MW and 10 MWs.
Solar is a major asset for Georgia’s rural communities, where people are now farming the sun alongside crops and trees. With more than 400 MW of installed solar capacity, Taylor County may be the most solar county this side of the Mississippi. As of the end of 2016, the five counties listed below have 63 percent of Georgia’s total installed capacity, almost all of which are ground-mount, utility-scale solar farms.
In terms of number of installs however, the more populous counties still come out on top. As of the end of 2016, the five counties listed below have 33 percent of Georgia’s total solar installations. The vast majority of these installations are on rooftops.
Despite plummeting solar panel prices, the residential solar segment has yet to take off in Georgia for several reasons. One-off transactions cannot take advantage of bulk purchasing, thereby increasing the price each homeowner pays for solar hardware. Furthermore, soft costs such as permitting can unexpectedly increase the final cost of a residential installation.
Solarize programs help homeowners to overcome these hurdles. Each program pre-selects an installer and sets a tiered price; the more homeowners that participate, the lower the final cost for all participants. And because each program is for a limited time, folks are incentivized to decide quickly. Georgia has completed two community-led Solarize programs so far, with tremendous success. GeorgiaEnergyData.org shows that Solarize Tybee and Solarize Athens represent 63 percent of all residential installs between 2015 and 2016. Two other Solarize programs are currently underway, with hopefully more to follow in 2017.
Many homeowners and renters in Georgia want to purchase clean, renewable solar electricity but cannot for a variety of reasons. In 2015, Walton EMC launched Georgia’s first cooperative solar project to provide these consumers with solar electricity. Walton EMC sells blocks of solar electricity for $25 per month. The kilowatt hours (kWhs) produced by each customer’s block in a calendar month offset the same number of kWhs on the bill. If the block produces more kWhs than used during the billing period, the customer receives a credit for the excess. Customers can discontinue their participation in the cooperative program at any time.
Walton EMC’s first 1 MW cooperative solar facility was so successful that they launched another 2.5 MW facility in 2016. As of the end of 2016, seven EMCs in Georgia have cooperative solar programs that have added more than 13 MW of utility-scale solar electricity to Georgia’s resource portfolio.
2017 and Beyond
Southface is hopeful that Georgia’s solar momentum will keep going strong. In 2017, Solarize programs will facilitate the placement of solar on more rooftops and EMCs will continue to launch cooperative solar programs. Georgia Power Company’s Renewable Energy Development Initiative (REDI) will also increase the state’s installed solar capacity.
It took Georgia four years to go from 23 MW to more than 1 GW of installed solar capacity. We hope that the next GW comes online much more quickly. And we thank all who help us keep GeorgiaEnergyData.org up-to-date and accurate.