Recent trends in Oregon’s solar market
Solar installations have been popping up all over Oregon. We now have more than 50 megawatts of solar electric generating capacity operating throughout the state. This capacity is comprised of more than 5,400 installations, mostly on rooftops of homes and businesses – a great example of many individual actions adding up to a significant result.
The rate of installations has been accelerating. Over 90% of this capacity has been installed in the last 5 years. There are many factors that led to this growth.
In 2003, Energy Trust of Oregon began building up the solar market – both supply and demand – by offering solar incentives and training contractors. Solar Oregon promptly scaled up its educational programs, raising public awareness and interest in solar.
In 2006 the financial incentives for solar improved when a 30% federal income tax credit was created and the cap on Oregon’s Residential Energy Tax Credit for solar electric systems was increased from $1,500 to $6,000. Non-residential systems received a similar financial boost in 2007 when Oregon’s Business Energy Tax Credit for solar electric systems was increased from 35% to 50% of eligible project cost.
At the same time, a global silicon shortage drove up the price of photovoltaic (PV) modules, until 2008, when the average installed cost of a residential solar electric system in Energy Trust of Oregon service territory peaked at $8.84/watt.
Since then, system prices have declined precipitously, with the average installed cost of a residential solar electric system now $5.56/watt. The price decrease has been driven by global supply of PV modules as well as process improvements in the entire delivery chain, from manufacturing to installation.
The declining system prices have allowed Energy Trust to continually lower its incentives and the Residential Energy Tax credit rate to be lowered in 2011 – exactly the desired outcome of incentive programs. In 2011, Oregon’s Business Energy Tax Credit was eliminated and a small-scale Renewable Energy Development grant program was established in its place.
The City of Portland was named a Solar America Community by US Department of Energy and enacted streamlined permitting guidelines for solar, which were soon adopted statewide.
Most recently, new sales and ownership models for PV installations have presented more options to consumers. In 2009, the first “Solarize” initiative, in which members of a neighborhood hired one contractor to install many systems at a discounted price, successfully accelerated homeowners’ decisions to invest in solar. In 2010, PGE and Pacific Power launched feed-in tariff incentives that pay generators a premium rate for solar electricity produced over 15 years. In 2011, residential solar leasing options became available to homeowners, requiring little or no up-front payment and promising long-term maintenance.
Residential installations from 2010 to mid-2012 have comprised 27% group-purchase (aka “Solarize”), 23% solar leasing, 13% feed-in tariff and 37% direct ownership.
Many Oregonians have expressed a preference for locally made components. 44% of all capacity installed from 2010 to mid-2012 uses SolarWorld PV modules.
You can visit the state’s largest single-site installation, a 1.75 megawatt “solar highway” project that uses Oregon-made Solar World panels (manufactured in Hillsboro) and PV Powered inverters (manufactured in Bend). The system is a public/private partnership between Oregon Department of Transportation and Portland General Electric installed at the Baldock rest area on northbound I-5. To visit it, take the rest area exit just north of Aurora, drive through the first rest area and into the east parking lot, where you will find the solar array and its educational signage.