The Solar Energy Industries Association reported last month that Florida ranked 14th in solar energy installations in the first quarter of 2012. That’s an improvements from the ranking of 17 among states for the 2011 calendar year, but it is still appalling that Sunshine State cannot score better for solar electric growth.
Florida residents and businesses installed only 2.8 megawatts of solar electric compared to 173.8 megawatts in New Jersey, the leading state in the first quarter. Yes, New Jersey, in the winter, installed 62 times the amount of solar electricity as Florida.
The reported numbers are for solar electric (photovoltaic) installations. Keep in mind that Florida has a thriving solar thermal industry. While solar domestic water heating installations have remained surprisingly low despite a healthy rebate from FPL, solar pool heating systems remains a staple in Floridians’ diets for solar products.
To put the relative energy production in perspective, the 2.8 megawatts of installed solar electric in Q1 will produce on average around 11 megawatt-hours of electricity per day. That’s equivalent to the amount of energy that can be produced by around 37,000 square feet of solar pool heating collectors*, or just 120 solar pool heating systems.
Now the comparison is not completely fair because solar thermal panels do not consistently operate at standard test conditions, and solar thermal is a demand based technology. In the summer, people often turn off or require less from their solar pool heating systems. The point is that the solar electric installation number is so meager. The solar field at Florida Gulf Coast University alone is rated at 2.0 megawatts.
Why the low adoption rate for solar electricity? There is no question that the lack of a state rebate, or even a rational renewable energy policy is to blame for Florida’s solar electric industry’s malaise. However, the immediate problem is the disruptive FPL rebate program that effectively limits the number of solar electric installations in FPL’s service area. Customers are reluctant to pay full price for a solar electric installation when their neighbors get a deep discount by winning the highly competitive rebate “lottery.” Despite the rebate program’s disruption, many customers still recognize the value and return from a solar electric system, and pay less today without rebates than others paid with rebates a few years ago!
Solar pool heating proves that the solar energy industry can stand on its own without tax credits and utility rebates. Solar pool heating does not have the glamour of solar electricity, and is largely ignored by the press as a source of solar energy. It is an effective, mature, energy saving technology that requires no incentives or public funding support. Before we jump to conclusions about the health of the solar industry in Florida, we need to consider all solar energy products and technologies!
* Based on FSEC low temperature rating of 1,000 BTU/day/sq ft.