South Dakota has sun but does it use it?

KELOLAND.com Original
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SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (KELO) — South Dakota has on average more than 200 days with sun.

Websites that track weather and other data don’t list South Dakota as a top 10 sunniest state but do say that the state has about 213 sunny days on average. Rapid City tends to have more sunnier days than Sioux Falls.

KELOLAND Weather said Rapid City has on average 226 sunny days while Sioux Falls has 211.

In comparison, Arizona has about 299 sunny days.

So what does South Dakota do with its sun?

Not much, yet.

 According to the South Dakota Public Utilities Commission, in 2020, solar power made up about 0.02% of the state’s total energy generation.

Solar produced 17,038,876 MWh. Solar power accounted for 1,933 MWh, according to the PUC.

The Solar Energy Industries Association ranked South Dakota 50th in terms of solar energy production in 2020 and 51st so far this year. The association said 200 homes were powered by solar energy.

In Minnesota, 203,522 homes are powered by solar energy, according to the SEIA. Solar energy produced 3.32% of the state’s electricity in 2020. It ranked 21st in solar energy production in 2021 and 15th so far this year.

According to the SEI,  0.38%. of Iowa’s energy comes from solar power.

Arizona, with all those sunny days,  ranked eighth in solar energy production in 2020 and fifth so far this year. Solar energy produces 7.93%. of the state’s energy, according to SEI.

While South Dakota doesn’t produce much solar energy, it is a leader in hydro electric power. Hydro electric power typically provides the state with 40% to 55% of its energy, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration.

Room for expected growth

Industry analysts and government entities all project growth in solar energy.

South Dakota should be part of that growth.

The S.D. PUC issued two permits in 2020 for solar energy production. MW stands for megawatt, a measure of energy. One megawatt is 1,000 kilowatts. A kilowatt or KW hour is what is shown on electrical bills. The U.S. Energy Information Administration said that in 2019, the typical U.S. home uses 10,649 kilowatts that year.

The Lookout Solar Project is slated for Oglala Lakota County. It will be capable of generating up to 110 MW of energy.

A Pennington County project called Wild Springs Solar Project will be capable of generating up to 128 MW.

The SEI projected a growth of 311 MW over the next five years in the state.

One reason for expected growth is the drop in the price of solar energy.

 Solar prices have dropped 88% since 2009, making it one of the cheapest electricity sources available, according to the Clean Grid Alliance, a organization that provides  “technical expertise in transmission and regulatory processes, policy work, and public education and outreach to build support” for renewable or clean energy.

Deloitte Financial also cited the Biden Administration’s emphasis on renewable energy as a strong encourager for the development of solar power.

Pains can come with growth

Solar panels on the rooftops of homes are becoming increasingly popular.

Sizes vary. For example, a home solar panel can provide 500 kilowatt hours each year.

Most solar panels are connected to the overall power grid, according to industry sources. If a panel is producing more than a property owner is using at the time, the power can go to the grid.

 Industry publications said a typical U.S. home would need 20 to 34 solar panels to cover 100% of its electrical costs. A 1,500 square foot house would need 15 to 18 panels.

But, homeowners with solar panels may still need to use energy supplied by the grid because panels may not be enough to supply all power needs. Also, there are times when the home won’t use all the solar power being produced.

“When people put enough solar on their roof to over-generate for their own needs at the time of generation, they push energy back on the grid and, in many cases, use far more infrastructure than they did before,” a Doug Houseman said in a T & D World post from June 20, 2015, said.

“In reality, it is the people who rent, lease and live in condominiums or homes where the association bans solar on the roof that end up paying the extra costs,” the T & D post said.

The Global Energy Institute of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce said in a June 9, 2016, post that a neighbor’s solar panel could be increasing another’s electric bill.

The organization said net metering policies, which gives a homeowner a credit for a solar panel, don’t always cover the costs to use, maintain and update the electric grid. The electric bills for a homeowner with a solar panel may go down but the bills for the neighbor may go up because they are taking on a greater share of the cost to use, maintain and update the electric grid, the Global Energy Institute said.

SolarReview said in October 2020 that utility companies can make it more difficult to add solar panels because of claims of unfairly passing infrastructure costs onto other customers.

But, the net benefit of increased solar panels is utility companies will need to build fewer power plants and high voltage transmission lines, SolarReview said.

Mani Vadari an energy grid consultant, wrote in T & D World in 2015, that there were several options to consider with the expected increase in home and business solar panels.

Revenue to public utilities and private utility companies will decrease as more panels are installed but fixed costs expected to be covered by revenue will continue, Vadari said. Those without solar panels will need to help cover those costs.

Options to help with the issue include a connection charge for normal distribution, a solar connection charge or a grid disconnection charge or the second option of a consumption charge, Vadari said.

A KELOLAND investigates story by Angela Kennecke that covers a proposed new alternative energy tariff will be broadcast on KELOLAND news at 10 tonight.

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