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Robert Trigaux

Report: Solar energy is on the rise but don't look to Sunshine State to lead the way



solarfarmdesotofplobamavisits2009ap.jpgWake up and good morning. A new report says solar energy is rising fast (from a small base). Just not in the, uh, Sunshine State.

Don't be confused by the photo, taken in 2009 which shows President Obama in Florida touring FPL's DeSoto Solar Center in Arcadia (AP photo). This solar project is clearly an exception, not a trend in this state.

A report released by the Washington-based Solar Energy Industries Association finds the amount of solar energy capacity installed in the United States increased 66 percent in the first quarter of 2011 as panel prices fell and developers took advantage of expiring government incentives. Developers installed 252 megawatts of photovoltaic (PV) power systems in the first quarter, compared with 152 megawatts a year earlier.

“Strong demand continues to make solar one of the fastest- growing industries in the United States," Rhone Resch, SEIA’s president, said in a statement. Read more in this Bloomberg story.

Of all states, New Jersey was the strongest market for solar, with 42 megawatts of new capacity installed, up 49 percent. The state has a total of 330 megawatts in operation. California is the largest market with 1.1 gigawatts. Installed capacity in the top seven states accounted for 88 percent of all new capacity in the quarter, up from 82 percent.

So where is Florida? Left in the dust. It ranked 19th in PV installations in the first quarter of 2011, down from 12th a year ago. But then, those who track the lack of traction for solar in Florida (despite its location for sunshine) are surely not surprised. Like a lot of alternative initiatives and energy innovations, Florida's behind the times in setting policies to support new ways to generate power.

The solar study finds commercial and government projects accounted for 59 percent of the first-quarter installations, compared with 44 percent a year earlier. Residential projects were 28 percent and the remaining 13 percent came from utility-scale plants. The cost of installing solar power is falling, driven by lower costs for components, greater economies of scale and streamlined development and installation, the report said. Prices of solar panels in the first quarter fell about 7 percent from a year earlier.

First-quarter installation volume also increased after developers rushed to break ground on projects before the end of 2010 when a U.S. Treasury grant incentive program was set to expire. That program, says the Bloomberg story, which reimburses 30 percent of the costs of building solar systems, was extended in December until the end of 2011.

Come on Florida. Put a little more sunshine in your energy future.

-- Robert Trigaux, Business Columnist, St. Petersburg Times

[Last modified: Thursday, June 16, 2011 8:10am]


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