Solar PV in Massachusetts? Off to a Slow Start*15 Mar

Renewable energy, and solar PV in particular, has enormous societal benefits. Solar PV is about to experience a great leap forward this year. However, Massachusetts has practically little electricity generated from solar PV. The state legislature is in the process of reducing net metering for solar PV, probably in reaction to electric utility industry lobbying. Massachusetts could and should do more to help solar PV for reasons cited below.

Renewable Energy and the Environment: According to the Union of Concerned Scientists, “Renewable energy is a practical, affordable solution to our electricity needs. By ramping up renewable energy, we can:

  • Reduce air pollution
  • Cut global warming emissions
  • Create new jobs and industries
  • Diversify our power supply
  • Decrease dependence on coal and other fossil fuels
  • Move America toward a cleaner, healthier energy future

We have the technologies and resources to reliably produce at least 40 percent of our electricity from renewable energy sources within the next 20 years, and 80 percent by 2050.”

The Booming Solar Sector: The Washington Post noted recently, “New statistics just released by the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) suggest that in the coming year, the booming solar sector will add more new electricity-generating capacity than any other — including natural gas and wind.”

“EIA reports that planned installations for 2016 include 9.5 gigawatts of utility-scale solar — followed by 8 gigawatts (or 8 billion watts) of natural gas and 6.8 gigawatts of wind. This suggests solar could truly blow out the competition, because the EIA numbers are only for large or utility-scale solar arrays or farms and do not include fast-growing rooftop solar, which will also surely add several additional gigawatts of capacity in 2016.” 

SOLAR PV in Massachusetts: Slow Start

The calculations below show that solar PV does not significantly add to the overall electricity generated in Massachusetts.

1. Comparison: Solar Capacity with Total Electric Capacity

“To encourage both utility-scale and distributed solar photovoltaic (PV) expansion, the state’s governor set a separate 2020 goal of 1,600 megawatts of solar PV capacity. Half of that capacity (i.e., 800 MW) was installed by 2015.”

“The state’s utility-scale solar facilities include an 8,200-panel facility on the site of a former metal foundry in Springfield. At 2.3 megawatts, it was New England’s largest solar PV facility when it opened in 2011, but another Massachusetts solar facility reached 5 megawatts less than 2 years later, and a 13-megawatt solar facility was inaugurated in mid-2014.”

Total solar capacity = (800+2.3+5+13) MW = 820.3 MW

Mass Electric Power Industry Net Summer Capacity 13,172 MW

Ratio, solar to total electric capacity = 820.3/13,172 = 6.23 x 10 ^-2 = 6.23%

2. Comparison: Total Solar Energy with Total Electric Energy

During 2013 in Massachusetts:

Solar energy produced =   106,457 MWh

Total industry electric energy =    32,885,021 MWh

Ratio, solar to total energy = 106,457/32,885,021 = 3.24 x 10^ -3 = 0.32%

3. Comparison: Homes with Solar – “In 2014, Massachusetts added 308 megawatts (MW) of solar electric capacity, bringing its total to 751 MW. That’s enough clean, affordable energy to power more than 120,000 homes.”

However, there are 2.81 million housing units in Massachusetts.

Ratio, homes with solar to total number of homes = 120,000/2,810,000 = 4.27 x 10^ -2 = 4.3%

* Opinions expressed in this post are strictly mine and do not necessarily reflect the views of the the Town of Reading Climate Advisory Committee where I am a member.

J. H. Everson SBIR Consultant

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About Dr. Everson

Prior to forming this SBIR consultant practice, Dr. Jeffrey Everson was director of business development for QinetiQ North America’s Technology Solutions Group (previously Foster-Miller, Inc.).

Dr. Everson has won and been the principal investigator for several SBIR programs, including a Phase I program for NASA, a Phase I project for the U.S. Air Force, and Phase I and II contracts from the U.S. Department of Transportation. For the Phase II program, he received a Tibbetts Award for exemplifying the best in SBIR achievement.

Previously Dr. Everson held senior scientist positions at Battelle Memorial Institute, The Analytic Sciences Corporation (TASC), Honeywell Electro Optics Systems Division, and Itek Optical Systems Division.

He holds a PhD in physics from Boston College and a MS/BS in physics from Northeastern University.


For more information about how JHEverson Consulting can help your company with its SBIR and STTR proposals, please contact Jeff Everson.

JHEverson Consulting is based in the Boston area but consults for clients throughout North America. It also is supported by affiliated consultants.