There’s now another reason to call Florida the Sunshine State. The land of alligators is truly leading the charge in solar power growth in the Southeast United States. For many years, the state was lagging behind the rest of America, failing to support policies that have driven much of the rest of the country’s renewal power surge. Florida had no renewable portfolio standard for solar power and a ban on power purchase agreements. Even The New York Times previously questioned the state’s utility companies, who worked hard to prevent solar integration until recently. However, new developments have changed those laws, giving the state a chance to truly live up to its nickname. Significant solar power growth is now on the horizon as Florida ranks second in the country for projected installed capacity over the next five years, with nearly 5.5 gigawatts of power ready to come online. The cost of solar has come down, and its use is now a bright, rising star in communities without previous access.
Solar energy is widely considered the key to weaning the electric grid off of fossil fuels such as coal. Harnessing the sun’s power is an essential part of addressing climate change. 2020 is proving to be the biggest year in American history for the installation of alternate fuel sources such as solar panels, wind turbines, and batteries. That growth is set to explode into 2021, and the Sun Belt in the Southeast will likely dominate.
“The Southeast is seeing a significant expansion of utility solar,” explained Robert Patrylak, a Navigant Consulting managing director and North American energy markets fundamental analyst. He said some of this growth is driven by a reduction in coal capacity, but it is mostly driven by the steep decline in the cost of solar resources.
In 2019, Florida saw a quadrupling of solar watt use per customer. According to the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy (SACE), the city of Tampa led the way, with Tampa Electric jumping from #5 to #2 in solar watt use across the Southwest region. The panhandle’s Walton County also showed a significant increase in solar use. SACE expects Florida as a whole to leapfrog over North Carolina and Georgia to take over the #1 spot next year, bolstered by Florida Power & Light’s new SolarTogether program, designed to double the amount of community solar.
The solar boom is great news for employment in Florida as well. Solar contributed more than half of the new jobs in the energy sector of the economy. As the sector expands in the state, job growth will follow suit. It’s also a perfect fit for the state’s retiree community, as energy efficiency historically leads the sector in employing veterans. In a state where most cities have more than 270 days of sunshine annually, it’s a perfect fit.