SEPA Vice President Bob Gibson Addresses PV America General Session

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VP of Market Intelligence Presents Vision of Resilient Solar Industry

In very real and growing ways, electric utilities, in this region and across the country, are part of the renewable energy industry, and in particular, the business of building and providing solar power.

Yesterday, Bob Gibson, Vice President of Market Intelligence for the Solar Electric Power Association (SEPA), addressed the general session at PV America, a regional solar trade show presented by SEPA and the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA).

The following are excerpts from Gibson’s speech. Please visit for the full text of the address, including examples of specific projects that are leading the way in the growth of utility-scale solar power.

…Utilities are no longer separate from the renewable energy industry. In very real and growing ways, electric utilities, in this region and across the country, are part of the renewable energy industry, and in particular, the business of building and providing solar power.

A few years ago, much of the role of utilities in solar power was in large part a reactive one. Customer-owned and sited installations, mostly small by utility standards for power production, were the heart of the solar industry. Today things have changed dramatically. Utilities are now active participants and partners in everything from testing new technologies, managing customer and community programs, and designing innovative solar business models. Utilities finance, buy, build and own solar resources of all sizes.

At SEPA we track large-scale solar announcements and project completions. In 2010, 169 MW of utility-scale (5 MW and above) projects were energized in the U.S. In the last quarter of 2010 alone, ground was broken on another 394 MW of centralized solar and almost 2 GW of new solar projects were announced. Some of those very large projects included concentrating solar technologies, but many of the projects are PV, and PV scaling in the hundreds of MWs – something inconceivable five years ago.

What’s been behind this change? Certainly public policies, here and abroad, have helped spur a rapid and dramatic increase in the grid-tied installations of PV. The resulting economies of scale, improvements in technologies and business practices, and infusion of capital have helped bring prices down sharply. As prices come down, industry services and practices improve, and customer demand for even more solar rises, utilities are motivated more by the carrot of new business opportunity than by the stick of mandates.

Globally, in the U.S., and right down to specific projects, solar is becoming a smart business decision, with benefits for a lot of different companies and stakeholders…

…For the past three years, SEPA has surveyed the solar installed on utility lines and celebrated our “Top Ten” utility rankings. We’re just wrapping up the survey for 2010, and already we see a more than 50 percent increase in the number of utilities included in the solar rankings over last year.

This year’s Top Ten report will also reflect the shift of significant solar activity from the historic concentration on California and the sunny southwest to the Midwest and the east coast. In fact, seven of the top ten utilities in this year’s rankings, which we will release in June, are not from California…

…The emergence of photovoltaic power as an increasingly cost-effective and versatile energy source is a trend that will benefit everyone. The essential role of the electric utility to ‘keep the lights on’ has – in the short run - been made more complicated by the emergence of competitive distributed energy resources like solar. But utilities recognize that solar is just one of many factors that are driving inevitable change in the traditional utility business model. As electric utilities become a dynamic part of the renewable energy industry – an industry that increasingly has room for many players and much healthy competition – the ultimate winner will be the individual energy consumer.

All of us in this room come to solar from different perspectives and with different agendas. But whether you are with a utility, an equipment supplier, a project developer, an installer or a community organization, everyone wins if we can make solar a resilient and sustainable business proposition.

The Solar Electric Power Association (SEPA) is an educational non-profit organization dedicated to helping utilities integrate solar power into their energy portfolios. With more than 875 utility and solar industry members, SEPA provides unbiased utility solar market intelligence, up-to-date information about technologies and business models, and peer-to-peer interaction. From hosting national events to one-on-one counseling, SEPA helps utilities make smart solar decisions. For more information, visit

Don Lintvet
(202) 559-2024


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