Solar energy is quickly gaining support with businesses as well as residents across the United States. While solar industry hotspots have been developing for awhile in California and Massachusetts, other states such as Maryland are joining the solar revolution as well. In fact, the state of Maryland has a goal of solar power providing 2 percent of the state’s energy needs by 2020. The following research examines how solar is affecting businesses in Maryland and on a national level.
Maryland’s Solar Projects
At the start of 2014 Maryland was equipped with 158 megawatts (MW) of installed solar power. One megawatt is equivalent to 1,000 kilowatts. About 42% of this energy was used by utilities while 40% was used by businesses and the remaining 18% was consumed by residents.
The goal for the state is to reach 1200 MW by 2020. The Maryland Energy Administration (MEA) has helped lead the way to solar expansion in the state, contributing over $36 million to development projects involving over 5,000 residents, 243 businesses, 62 agricultural facilities and 31 government offices.
The federal government provides a tax credit of 30% with the Business Energy Investment Tax Credit. This incentive alone has attracted many businesses while it lasts, since the tax credit will be reduced to 10% for systems placed in service beginning in 2017.
Maryland offers performance-based incentives in the form of Solar Renewable Energy Certificates (SRECs), which are created for every megawatt hour of solar power generated. Electricity suppliers connected to the distribution grid serving Maryland and certified by the Maryland Public Service Commission (PSC) can gain revenue by investing in these credits that can be transferred, sold or redeemed on the open market within three years.
Another incentive for businesses to go solar offered by MEA is its Game Changer Program, which offers grants for clean energy projects that provide innovative solutions and help meet the state’s energy goals. This program extends to a variety of renewable energy projects beyond solar as long as the projects are located in Maryland, help the local economy and reduce greenhouse gases.
The Geography of Solar
On a national level solar installation is a rapidly growing industry in the United States. At one time geographic location was key to solar development due to the amount of sunshine required to convert sunlight into electricity. But now even a cloudy and rainy place like Seattle is becoming a development center for solar power since net metering systems have resolved issues about climate conditions. Seattle even gets more sunlight throughout the year than Germany, which reached the threshold of 50 percent solar power in July 2014.
Top Companies That Use Solar
Several factors have contributing to a surge among businesses toward putting solar panels on their roofs. Aside from federal and state government incentives, the price of photovoltaic (PV) solar systems has declined dramatically from 2001 through 2013, according to the Solar Energy Industry Association (SEIA). What used to cost $10 per watt now costs less than $4 per watt in 2014.
When you add up all the power generated from new installations by the top companies that use solar between 2012 and 2013, the expansion increased power from 300 MW to 445 MW. The leading company by the end of 2013 was Walmart, which had a capacity of 89.3 MW, followed by Costco (47.06 MW), Kohl’s (44.7 MW), Apple (40.73) and IKEA (35.08). Other top companies that use solar include Macy’s, Johnson & Johnson, McGraw Hill, Staples and Campbell’s. As far as industry sectors, retailers represent the greatest amount of solar power capacity, followed by automakers, pharma companies and food service businesses.
By number of 2013 installations, which yields a different ranking of top companies that use solar, Walmart still comes out on top with 215 on-site solar installations, followed by Walgreens (156), Kohl’s (140), Costco (78) and Macy’s (44).
Apple Keeps Going More Solar
Computer and mobile device maker Apple has been aggressive in its solar expansion. In July 2014 the company announced that it was purchasing 100 acres of land to build its third solar farm in North Carolina. This new $55 million 17.5 MW data center project is expected to be completed in five years.