As the nation begins to take serious steps in working towards a future powered by renewables, it is fitting that the Sunshine State is finally finding its footing as one of the leaders in solar power. In recent months, Florida has been steadily gaining ground in the state rankings for solar capacity, even surpassing North Carolina, which up until recently was in second place nationwide. While the most recent rankings showed the Tar Heel State ahead by roughly 500 megawatts in total solar capacity at the end of 2020, it is estimated that Florida is making investments that will result in a capacity of an additional 2,000 megawatts by the end of 2021. This is about four times as much as the 500 megawatts North Carolina is projected to add during this year. And, the difference over the next five years is expected to be even more pronounced, with Florida looking to build over 12,000 megawatts to North Carolina’s 3,200.
Florida’s surge comes as a result of state policies that discourage excessive competition from independent energy companies, as well as substantial investments from utilities like Florida Power and Light.
In what can be described as an aggressive expansion, Florida Power and Light continues to pursue a variety of solar construction projects throughout the Sunshine State. The utility company has garnered praise for its ambitious “30 by 30” initiative that aims to install 30 million solar panels statewide by the year 2030. After installing another 1.4 million panels across five new solar energy centers in December of last year, the company has recently embarked on a host of new projects in 2021 like the Palm Bay Solar Energy Center, bringing the total number of energy centers statewide to 37.
Another seven energy centers are still under construction in Florida, which should translate to an additional 500 megawatts, which is enough to power 75,000 homes. Each of these sites is expected to take part in Florida Power and Light’s “SolarTogether” program. The widely popular program is available to all customers and allows them to elect to receive some or all of their energy needs through solar power. This will translate to significant greenhouse gas reductions if we assume that the infrastructure to support this program will be continuously expanded in the coming years. Based on a standard 7 kilowatt home energy subscription, a household that converts to 100 percent solar energy through this program will see savings over a year equalling 6.5 tons of avoided carbon dioxide emissions. This is the equivalent of almost 15,000 miles of driving-related emissions, or 98 trees planted.
There are indicators that, despite the rapid progress in solar infrastructure in Florida, the state has the potential to exhibit growth even beyond the projected levels. Much of this is due to a number of policy decisions made within the state that have historically restricted solar development, decisions that are outside the national norm. For one, Florida does not have a renewable portfolio standard. This is a policy that has been adopted by 38 states and essentially requires that all utility companies must have a certain percentage of their energy supply sourced from renewables like wind and solar. The standard allows states to guide energy providers in a sustainable direction, theoretically raising the minimum threshold for renewables gradually until the nation has the infrastructure to support fully renewable operations. Additionally, Florida doesn’t allow power purchase agreements, which allow customers to rent out solar panels from providers and is generally the most easily accessible method of installing one’s own solar panels on their property. Despite this, Florida residents still installed a total of 86-megawatts of solar power in 2018, one of the highest numbers nationwide at the time.