The country is running more and more on renewables –
and solar energy is rising to the top. Although solar energy is still in its
infancy, its potential is exponential. Currently, more
than 81 gigawatts (GW) of
solar powers 15.7 million American homes across the country. According to a new report from
the Solar Energy Industries Association and Wood Mackenzie, a record 3.6 GW of
solar was installed nationwide in the first quarter of 2020, representing 40
percent of all new electricity generating capacity – the largest share of all
new electricity. The Energy Information Association predicts 12.6 GW of
new utility-scale solar capacity this year.
Here in the Midwest, over the last
few years, the Midcontinent Independent System Operator (MISO) interconnection
queue has changed from mostly wind projects to more solar being planned. Over
2,500 MW of solar are in the queue for Wisconsin alone over the next few years.
Wisconsin is currently powered by 214 MW of
solar energy. Although this amount seems small, it’s still enough to light up
over 34,000 homes. Wisconsin solar prices have decreased 40 percent in
the last five years, making it one of the cheapest renewable energy sources on
the market. Solar investment has reached over $382 million in the state.
Utilities are embracing solar
As one of the cheapest renewable sources, solar
is a great asset for utilities. Utility-scale
prices are at a record low, with a current cost range of $16-$35 per megawatt
hour. Since 2009, the cost of solar has dropped 88
percent. Investment in the solar
industry grew to $18.7
billion in 2019. As utilities and
states across the region implement robust clean energy and decarbonization
plans, they all have one thing in common: embracing large-scale solar.
Wisconsin-based utility Alliant Energy has
major plans to increase its renewable energy portfolio with solar. It was
recently announced that the utility is in the process of investing $900 million
to acquire six projects
ranging from 50 MW to 200 megawatts (MW) each. These projects will be developed by NextEra
Energy Resources, Ranger Power and Savion. The projects’ combined capacity of
675 MW would more than triple the state’s current solar capacity. Spanning
across the state, from Grant County in the west to Sheboygan County in the east,
this development would make Alliant the largest provider of solar energy in
Wisconsin – a huge increase from its current standing of two MW.
In addition to offering clean, low-cost energy,
these projects will greatly benefit local communities. Alliant’s new projects
will produce $2.7 million in
revenue for host counties and townships. In the next three decades, the revenue to local communities will
be over $80 million. Landowners will also receive
payments for hosting the solar farms in the form of land lease payments.
In 2019, Alliant launched its carbon-reduction
plan, called the “Clean Energy
Blueprint”. This outline aims to derive 30 percent of the
utility’s electricity from renewables, and to cut carbon emissions by 80
percent by 2030. This announcement includes plans to close its remaining coal
plants by the end of 2022, which will save customers “hundreds of millions of dollars
in costs.” The blueprint also calls for one gigawatt of solar by 2023.
Solar is harnessing the raw power of the sun to
light up Wisconsin’s homes at a low cost and providing job security for
families. As demand increases for clean, reliable renewable energy from
utilities and corporate and industrial purchasers, solar energy capacity will
help clean up the electric grid. The sun is shining, and the future looks
bright for solar.