Putting the Sun in Sundries: Leading retailers shaming solar-shy southeast

John D. Wilson | September 24, 2012 | Energy Policy, Solar

Some of America’s best-known retailers are looking bright when it comes to solar energy. And showing that low costs and high growth go hand-in-hand with solar.

Ikea is one of a few companies doing more to drive solar power development in the Southeast than state or utility policy. (Click photo for WSAV video, photos and story.)

Leading the pack in solar energy among retailers is none other than Walmart, whose solar PV panels pack almost as much punch as the entire installed capacity of solar in Florida. These findings are thanks to fascinating analysis of sun-worshiping businesses by the Solar Energy Industry Association.

Most Southeastern states are being shamed by these retailers because of their complete lack of effort to invest in clean energy sources. Only Florida breaks into the top ten for their solar installations (at #9, according to the Interstate Renewable Energy Council) … but Florida’s efforts handily have been outshone by both Pennsylvania and New Jersey, two states with much smaller electricity markets. With the 3rd largest retail sales of electricity in the USA, Florida would need to quadruple its solar PV installations to reach the #3 ranking nationally.

Georgia ranks 8th in the USA when it comes to electricity generation, 27th in solar generation compared to other states, and wouldn’t nearly crack the top ten list on solar power installations by American businesses. As the home of Southern Company, the second largest utility in the U.S., Georgia is a typical example of how solar still struggles to shine in the Southeast.

Wait, isn’t Southern Company planning to build 50 MW of solar power? Yes … but Southern Company, with nearly 43,000 megawatts of total electricity generating capacity, only has only a bit more ambitious plan than IKEA’s 38 MW solar power plan, including 2.5 MW in Georgia. The furniture and houseware store seems to know a thing or two about energy, while Southern Company’s forays into IKEA’s business lines seems to be limited to refrigerator replacements.

See how the Southeast stacks up compared to retailers below the break …

Solar installations by selected companies (in green) compared with Southeastern states (in blue). Credit: Interstate Renewable Energy Council (2012); Solar Energy Industries Association and Vote Solar (2012).

The graph above speaks for itself – several corporations are making efforts comparable to Southeastern states in terms of solar installations. The question is, are these companies shining bright, or are the Southeastern states dim bulbs?

To answer that question, we looked at the solar penetration in the Southeast relative to total generation. Since we don’t know the companies’ total power use to benchmark against, we lined up some of the states that have strong solar power development strategies but have relatively moderate solar resources. (OK, we also included Colorado which has some pretty strong sun … but we excluded solar power leaders Arizona and California to avoid offending anyone’s political sensibilities.)

As you can see, North Carolina makes a respectable showing due to the state’s Renewable Energy and Energy Efficiency Portfolio Standard (evaluation here) and the declining cost of solar energy. But sadly, the Sunshine State (Florida) barely edges out Tennessee.

Utility rankings offer another way to look at who’s plugging in solar panels. Unfortunately, Southeastern utilities remain dim. The 2011 Solar Electric Power Association utility rankings mention a few utilities from our region. I’ll spare you another chart, here are some of the best showings (considering cumulative totals only, just as I have for companies and states):

Still, considering that Duke Energy, Southern Company, NextEra (FPL), and Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) are on any top five or top ten list in terms of selling electricity, their aversion to solar energy stands out in the bright light cast by some of the country’s leading retailers.

My call? The sellers of sundries are shining up their stores with solar, but the states of the Southeast are still shamefully in the shadows.

What do you think?

 

John D. Wilson
For more than a decade, John has directed SACE’s research activities and led SACE’s utility reform campaigns. He often represents SACE in formal or informal stakeholder engagement with utilities, and…
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