Georgia is Moving Quickly to Lead the Nation in Solar Power

The Southface Energy Institute of Atlanta, GA hosts a monthly Sustainable Atlanta Roundtable (SART) to create a forum for the presentation and discussion of issues critical to our community. The discussion frames the issues so we understand their impact at the local, state and national levels of community and government.

The December 2012 SART focused on solar power generation in Georgia with John Sibley, Senior Policy Fellow at Southface, introducing the panelists: Shan Arora, Sustainable Development Project Manager at Southface; Ervan Hancock III, Manager of Renewable and Green Strategies at Georgia Power; and Jessica Moore, Executive Director of the Georgia Solar Energy Association (GESA).

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Arora noted the lack of data about solar in Georgia – pointing out that the photovoltaic (PV) solar panels generating solar power in Georgia are under-reported. To solve that problem, Southface created an interactive database mapping the PV solar panels in Georgia. People who use the www.georgiaenergydata.org website will be able to find local installations. Speaking with the people operating the local installations will allow us to find resources (contractors) and share advice|experience.

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The expected acrimony between Georgia Power and GESA was evident: Georgia Power wants to preserve centralized power production (utility scale) and GESA is fighting for distributed generation (solar panels on rooftops). Despite Georgia’s great potential for solar power generation, we’ve not seen much development compared with states like New Jersey and countries like Germany that are further north and have much worse potential for solar power generation.

Hancock, of Georgia Power, noted that the utility has been slow to develop solar power generation because of equipment costs. Solar equipment costs are down 40% in the last 18 months so Georgia Power is moving quickly to develop the resource from its current 11 megawatts (MW) of solar power generation to 271MW. This should give Georgia the largest voluntary PV solar power portfolio for a utility in the country.

With Georgia ranked third in the country for unrealized solar power generation potential, the discussions about utility-scale solar power generation, public-private partnerships, power purchase agreements and Georgia’s state policy for energy set by the Georgia Public Service Commission will continue to evolve. One of the most promising aspects of a growing solar power industry (in any state) is the creation of local jobs that can’t be outsourced.

As the public policy issues are sorted out, energy storage is the next logical discussion – we need to store excess energy generated when renewable power is available to use when it’s not available. We’re exploring energy storage because we’ll need to include them in future designs. We offered notes in our blog posts about the Savannah International Clean Energy Conference about some of the exciting, emerging storage technologies and would be happy to provide some additional detail if you’re interested.

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