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Both-And: “Solar in the Southeast” fourth annual report: Part 4

image credit: Southern Alliance for Clean Energy (SACE)
Bryan Jacob's picture
Solar Program Director, Southern Alliance for Clean Energy

Bryan Jacob is a Ramblin’ Wreck from Georgia Tech and serves as Solar Program Director for the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy (SACE). This role ranges from conducting research on solar power...

  • Member since 2020
  • 2 items added with 576 views
  • Jul 16, 2021

Originally posted July 14 on 

Both-And: “Solar in the Southeast” fourth annual report: Part 4 

Bryan Jacob | July 14, 2021 | SolarUtilities


I’m as competitive as the next guy. (The Tokyo Olympics starts next week and some of you know about my Olympic pedigree.) But I want to devote today’s blog toward the fallacy that distributed solar and utility-scale solar are in competition with one another.

In our webinar that accompanied the launch of SACE’s fourth annual “Solar in the Southeast” report, some participants raised questions about the costs of rooftop solar versus utility-scale solar and the benefits of one versus the other. Brenden Rivers from the WJCT, which covers Jacksonville, Florida, captured how I summed up my response:

According to Jacob, both utility-scale and distributed solar are necessary if utilities want to reach 100% clean energy. “It’s not an either or proposition, it’s really a both and,” he said.

In a blog post from 2018 about the very first annual “Solar in the Southeast report,” I wrote: “Our vision at SACE is for all market segments of solar to succeed: utility-scale along with (not to the exclusion of) residential rooftop, community-scale and commercial/industrial.  We advocate for policies and programs that offer a fair opportunity for solar to succeed at all scales, and we oppose abusive utility practices that restrict these opportunities.”


The New York Times published a presumably well-intended article on Sunday, July 11, “More Power Lines or Rooftop Solar Panels: The Fight Over Energy’s Future”(subscription required), which was met with a prompt critique on social media and a dissenting opinion yesterday, July 13, by Canary Media: “The rooftop solar vs. transmission showdown that wasn’t.”

Mark Dyson of Rocky Mountain Institute summed it up well on Twitter:

I now believe that the @nytimes article on transmission-vs.-distributed solar was just a ploy to prompt energy experts to realize we all agree that it’s “both/and” not “either/or,” set aside our differences, and get on with reducing CO2. Well played… well played.


SACE is calling on Congress to pass a Clean Electricity Standard (CES) – 100% by 2035 as envisioned by President Biden in the framework of the American Jobs Plan. We’re not alone in this clarion call – others are part of this chorus – just last week, 75 businesses called for a CES. And there’s widespread voter support for such legislation. David Roberts (@drvolts) covered clean electrification in a recent installment of “On climate policy, there’s one main thing and then there’s everything else”; and A Matter of Degrees, hosted by Dr. Leah Stokes and Dr. Katharine Wilkinson, devoted an episode to this just this week: “Let’s Go Get Us A Clean Electricity Standard.”

Companion research from SACE examined pathways and portfolios that could enable the four largest utility systems in the Southeast to achieve 100% clean electricity by 2035 (even 2030 in the case of TVA). Fulfilling a CES will require a combination of clean electricity resources. SACE’s “Achieving 100% Clean Electricity in the Southeast: Enacting a Federal Clean Electricity Standard” report and associated appendicesillustrate that we need far more solar in the portfolios than any of our region’s largest utilities are currently planning.

A snapshot of the resources in SACE’s DER-focused pathway to 100% clean electricity, for each operating utility examined in “Achieving 100% Clean Electricity in the Southeast.”


The primary pathway in the SACE analysis prioritizes distributed energy resources (DERs) for fulfilling the utilities’ anticipated load prior to expanding centralized generation. Some common examples of DERs include residential, commercial, and industrial energy efficiency measures, customer-sited solar, often on rooftops, and demand response. The discrepancies between utility plans and the levels of solar necessary for 100% clean electricity by 2035 were particularly obvious for distributed solar.

Forecast for Southeast States, “Solar in the Southeast” fourth annual report, page 11


Utility-scale solar (represented in blue) far exceeds distributed solar in each of the Southeast states. But some states have appreciably more distributed solar (in yellow) than others.

Alabama and Mississippi have almost no distributed solar and Tennessee isn’t much better. Our “Solar in the Southeast” illustrates this (above) and goes on to assert that, “Distributed solar will continue to struggle in Alabama even after the pandemic due to anti-solar policies imposed by TVA and Alabama Power.”

Policies at these utilities will need improvement to drive adequate solar expansion. The SACE portfolio for Alabama Power to fulfill a 100% CES by 2035 would require over 3,500 MW of distributed solar; TVA would require almost 5,800 MW.

Resource plans for utility-scale solar also must scale up considerably to fulfill a CES, as well. Both utility-scale and distributed solar are necessary if utilities want to reach 100% clean energy. “It’s not an either-or proposition, it’s really a both-and. You can find more details of major Southeast utility’s current resource plans and our alternative pathways that get them to 100% clean electricity sooner than they are currently projected in our companion report, “Achieving 100% Clean Electricity in the Southeast: Enacting a Federal Clean Electricity Standard.”


Join us in our call and take one minute to express your support for a Clean Electricity Standard to elected officials.


More report resources are available below.




Matt Chester's picture
Matt Chester on Jul 16, 2021

Thanks for sharing, Bryan-- I'm curious if you have advice for ratepayers in the Southeast for what they can best do to try to urge action by their utilities. Is it effective to actually contact them and tell them? Is it a matter of supporting state/local politicians that will push things in that direction? How do we push forward that momentum?  

Bryan Jacob's picture
Bryan Jacob on Jul 16, 2021

If the utility is a co-op or muni, then yes, contacting them directly may help. If it's an investor-owned utility, it may be more effective to contact the Public Service Commission / Public Utilities Commission and/or state legislators.


Case in point, we have already reached the low cap for "monthly netting" in Georgia Power territory. One of the elected Public Service Commissioners is urging people to contact him and his colleagues. They need to hear from customers ASAP. 

Similarly, a bill has been introduced in the Georgia Senate (SB 299) that will lift this cap -- and also extend "monthly netting" to customers of other utilities in Georgia. That won't be voted until the session resumes in January, but outreach to state senators and representatives now would be useful.

Jim Stack's picture
Jim Stack on Jul 20, 2021

Bryan, I am most disappointed in Florida the Sunshine state. They should not be able to use that phase unless they improve their Solar policy to be much better. It's all about policy just look at the world leader Germany with half the solar resource. 

   So we need a Federal policy that makes all of the power companies use the same policy with real Net-Metering and incentives. Without that each utility comes up with a plan that doesn't help solar. 

Bryan Jacob's picture
Thank Bryan for the Post!
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