Ask Renewable Rayna: What Happened in the Solar Energy Industry This Year?


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Solar markets are flourishing rapidly across the U.S., and solar power in several regions is now economically competitive with conventional energy sources. Solar has a significant impact on the country, according to the Department of Energy. Solar jobs, for example, have increased by almost 160 percent since 2010, nine times the average national rate of growth in the last five years. In the United States, there are over 242,000 solar jobs, the second largest sector in the industry behind manufacturing. But, what has happened in Arkansas with the increasing use of solar energy this year?

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Arkansas solar figures (Source: SEIA)

Installations

According to GMT Research and the latest market report of the Solar Energy Industries Association, Arkansas added the 18th most solar projects in the United States last year. The Natural State has had its largest solar installation year in 2018, adding 118 megawatts of solar generation with over 160 megawatts (MW) installed.

Of the 160 MW installed, 137 MW of these projects are made up of systems larger than 150 kilowatts (kW) in size.

As of now, solar is now the cheapest way to buy electricity, and with the combination of the new law [Act 464 of 2019], tax advantages and other factors, cities, counties, and schools saw the opportunity to save with solar.

For starters, in 2019 we witnessed the completion of solar projects in Howard and Jefferson counties and in the last quarter, solar projects in Pulaski County.

The City of Fayetteville has constructed the largest solar system in Arkansas on municipal land and the first to include on-site battery energy storage in collaboration with their utility, Ozarks Electric. This project led several cities, such as the city of Fayetteville, to respond to renewable targets. Just this month, the City of Paris announced that it is becoming a solar-powered city.

New solar projects may easily slip down the list of priorities when students and educators come first, but the U.S. Department of Energy estimates K-12 schools spend more than $6 billion per year on energy, and energy costs in many districts are second only to salaries. Understanding this, schools saw value in solar this year. In the K-12 sector, Batesville schools deployed a solar project this year, while institutes of higher education like University of Arkansas Pine Bluff and Southern Arkansas University Tech (SAU Tech). SAU Tech’s 1 MW project is projected to save the university over $100,000 annually.

As a whole, this amount of solar has excellent environmental benefits for the state. Each year in Arkansas, the environmental impact of solar production is as follows, or equivalent to the following:


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Source: EPA

Storage

In addition to an influx of solar installations across the state, the first solar and battery energy storage system (BESS) installed in the Mid-South was installed by Today’s Power, Inc. (TPI) in partnership with the City of Fayetteville and Ozarks Electric Cooperative. This project triggered a response for cities and countries across the state to look into renewables themselves. Since then, Entergy announced its first solar plus storage project, and TPI has begun construction on its second.


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Solar and Storage (Photo credit: Today’s Power Inc.)

Jobs

Arkansas is among the leading states for solar job growth, according to The Solar Foundation’s 2018 National Solar Jobs Census. In 2018, 85 solar new jobs were added to Arkansas’ renewable energy economy. In 2018, there were 369 Arkansas solar jobs compared to 284 in 2017 – a 30% increase. Just five states have seen a higher annual growth rate.

Legislation

Act 464, a 2019 solar bill introduced as Senate Bill 145, could double or triple the number of solar jobs in Arkansas, according to a recent analysis from the Business Innovations Legal Clinic of the William H. Bowen School of Law. This bill not only allows third-party leasing, but also increased the commercial solar size limit to 1,000 kW (1 MW) from 300 kW.

Although most of the installed capacity consists of larger systems of over 150 kW, if you live in the state of Arkansas, you can get plenty of energy from a residential solar system. In fact, the number of net metering systems, comprised of residential systems and commercial systems up to 1 MW, experienced it’s largest annual increase in Arkansas last year.

Per the annual electric utility filings with the Arkansas Public Service Commission, there was a total of 1,508 net metering systems as of December 31, 2018, a 520-net increase over the end-of-2017 number of 988 systems (a 52.6% increase).

After years of discussion, on December 5th, 2019, there was a full-house at the Public Service Commission’s Net-metering Hearing. To comply with Rule 2.03(b)(2) of the Commission’s Rules of Practice and Procedure (RPP), the Commission is reopening the hearing record and has scheduled an additional hearing for the purpose of receiving additional public comments on the proposed revisions to the Net-Metering Rules. The public comment hearing is scheduled to begin at 9:30 a.m. on Wednesday, February 19, 2020, in the Commission Hearing Room located in the Arkansas Public Service Commission Building, 1000 Center Street, Little Rock, Arkansas.

Conclusion

In conclusion, the increase in solar activity in Arkansas has important economic development, environmental, and financial benefits for our state. The numbers discussed are further evidence of the growing demand for advanced energy resources.