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Explosion of solar noted in industry report

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A recent report by GTM Research for the Solar Energy Industries Association illustrated significant growth in solar power installation in South Carolina.

According to the report, the state jumped from No. 36 for annual state solar photovoltaic installation in 2015 to No. 9 in the second quarter of 2016. South Carolina ranks behind Arizona, Massachusetts, New York, Nevada, New Jersey, Utah, North Carolina and California for installation.

The state had 53.02 megawatts of installed solar capacity in the first half of 2016, compared to 4.2 MW installed in all of 2015.

“South Carolina was not one of the bigger states, and the total capacity that we are talking about is not that big by comparison; but the percentage of growth is huge and it positions the state to be a national leader in terms of solar energy,” said Dan Whitten, vice president of communication for the Solar Energy Industries Association.

Utility companies in South Carolina saw the biggest jump in solar installation. The report said that segment had 39.77 MW of installed solar capacity in the first half of the year, up significantly from the 3.4 MW installed in all of 2013.

Residential solar installations have also jumped significantly. In the first half of 2016, residences have 10 MW of installed solar capability, up from 1.95 MW installed on homes in all of 2015 in South Carolina.

In the second quarter of 2016, the report said there was 6.7 MW of solar generation installed in the state, a 99% increase over the first quarter and a 2,267% increase over the same quarter a year ago.

Whitten said the reason for the rapid growth of solar in South Carolina is the Distributed Energy Resource Program Act which was passed unanimously in the S.C. House and S.C. Senate in 2014. The act allows electric utility companies in the state to recoup expenses incurred to implement various energy sources like solar.

“That gave a huge jump-start to the solar installation in the state,” Whitten said. “What we have seen in other states is that once the policy is in place, the sector takes off and develops a life of its own.”

Duke Energy, a primary supplier of power to the Upstate, announced plans to purchase or own 8,000 MW of renewable energy capacity by 2020. That is a 33% increase from the original goal of 6,000 MW set in 2013.

“Duke Energy is accelerating the pace of our renewable energy program, allowing us to increase our goal for wind, solar and biomass on our system,” Cari Boyce, vice president of policy, sustainability and stakeholder strategy, said in a news release issued with the company’s 2015 Sustainability Report in April. “Renewable energy will continue to be a growing part of our generation mix in the future.”

In 2015, the company announced it was offering rebates to its customers in South Carolina to help offset the initial costs of installing solar on their property. The rebate program offers $1 per watt for some customers who install systems up to 20 KW on their property and for businesses that install systems up to 1 MW. Duke Energy officials said the company wants to grow its renewable portfolio in South Carolina from 2 MW in 2015 to 110-170 MW by 2021.

“For many of our residential and small business customers, installing solar on their property is a significant investment," Clark Gillespy, Duke Energy's S.C. president, said in a news release in October 2015, when the rebate program was announced. “We believe a rebate coupled with our net metering incentive provides customers a meaningful financial incentive to seriously consider going solar.”

According to Duke Energy, the program has provided nearly $5 million in rebates to S.C. customers.

“The response to the rebate program has been incredible,” said Duke Energy spokesman Ryan Mosier. “This just proves our customers want diverse options to help them participate in a sustainable solar energy marketplace. We will continue to provide these opportunities.”

The exponential growth the state has experienced in the first half of the year has led to forecasts of even greater growth for the second half.

“The first-half-of-the-year numbers are pretty modest,” said the Solar Energy Industries Association's Whitten. “You could see the utility-scale numbers really jumping with just one or two projects. The same can be said for nonresidential. If a company decides to put solar on a warehouse that will up that number significantly.

“If South Carolina follows the trend of the rest of the nation, the state’s figures will explode even more.”

He said the association reported 4 gigawatts of solar energy generated in the first half of the year in the United States, and the forecast is for nearly 14 GW generated in the nation by the end of the year. He said it would be the first time over 10 GW of solar power will have been generated in the U.S. in a year.

Reach Matthew Clark at 864-720-1222.

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