wjxt logo

Report finds Florida becoming solar leader in Southeast

Sunsine State ‘late to the game,’ but ‘coming on strong’

Photo does not have a caption

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – As distributed solar adoption slowed across the Southeast due to the coronavirus pandemic, utility-scale solar made significant gains, moving the state of Florida into the leading state for installed solar capacity in the region.

During a virtual event Wednesday, the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy (SACE), a regional nonprofit focused on the transition to clean energy, shared details on its fourth annual “Solar in the Southeast” report. Lead author and SACE’s Solar Program Director Bryan Jacob announced that the Sunshine State had surpassed North Carolina to become the region’s “solar leader.”

“Florida is a bigger state, bigger population, bigger utilities,” Jacob said. “They were kind of late to the game, let’s admit that, but they’ve really been coming on strong lately, once the economics shifted to where solar was among the least-cost resources they could be bringing on now.”

installed and projected solar capacities in southern states. (Southern Alliance for Clean Energy)

This happened as the region grappled with the effects of the coronavirus pandemic. Distributed solar (solar energy produced at or near the point where it’s used, like rooftop solar) adoption certainly took a hit, according to Jacob. But, he said, utility-scale solar actually had a record year and both sectors continued to grow, despite the pandemic.

“Clearly, this past year has been a very unusual and unprecedented, and in many ways a tragic year for a lot, with a lot of challenges with the pandemic. But,” SACE Executive Director Stephen Smith said, “generally, this technology has continued to move very rapidly forward.”

Of all the states, Jacob said Florida was best able to “weather the storm,” which helped it overcome North Carolina as the region’s solar leader. In fact, a significant portion of the distributed solar that was added across the region in 2020 was built in the Sunshine State.

“There was a lot of additional momentum in the system in Florida,” Jacob said.

SACE anticipates seeing utility-scale solar capacity grow exponentially at many of Florida’s utilities over the next few years, including at JEA, Jacksonville’s city-owned utility.

According to the report, JEA currently generates 124 solar watts per customer -- roughly one-third of the solar average for Florida utilities. JEA is expected to remain far behind the state’s other major utilities in terms of both utility-scale and distributed solar capacity.

Utility-scale and distributed solar adoption among Florida utilities.

Installed and projected solar capacity by Florida utilities
Gulf Power, Tampa Electric and Orlando Utilities Commission each earned SunRiser status from the Florida Alliance for Clean Energy.

With distributed growing at a crawl relative to utility-scale solar, SACE is emphasizing the importance of adopting every form of clean, renewable energy that’s available.

According to Jacob, both utility-scale and distributed solar are necessary if utilities want to reach 100% clean energy. “It’s not an either or proposition, it’s really a both and,” he said.

Brendan Rivers can be reached at brivers@wjct.org, 904-358-6396 or on Twitter at @BrendanRivers.