The growth of solar energy in downtown Phoenix is moving in divergent directions so far this year.
While the city of Phoenix continues to move forward with its solar expansion projects, commercial and residential solar expansion has shown a slight growth lag.
“In the past several years we’ve made a tremendous amount of progress in both the city and the private sector,” Deputy City Manager Rick Naimark said about the city’s efforts to promote solar energy.
Phoenix is host to some of the largest solar energy projects in Arizona, including the rooftop solar parking structure at Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport, Naimark said. The city now generates more than 15 megawatts of energy due to solar projects such as this, he said.
The city has increased its renewable energy target to 15 percent of the city’s operations because production overshot expectations last year. Solar energy in particular will contribute to helping the city meet these new renewable energy goals, Naimark said.
What sets solar projects in downtown Phoenix apart from those of other downtown areas is the large scale of energy generated, said Dimitrios Laloudakis, energy manager for the city of Phoenix.
Laloudakis said the city is effectively meeting its goals for solar energy production but that the commercial and residential sectors of downtown Phoenix are not seeing quite as much success.
“Incentives have pretty much dried up on the commercial side,” Laloudakis said.
Incentives are the main drive for many prospective customers looking to install solar, but they have been decreasing since late last year, he said. Those incentives include rebates based on generating excess energy and cheaper costs compared to non-solar customers.
Late last year, the Arizona Corporation Commission approved a $5 rate increase for new solar customers of Arizona Public Service, the state’s largest electricity provider. The increase was part of a deal that kept rebates intact but added the extra charge on new residential solar customers.
The original proposal by APS, which would have removed the rebates and increased prices, sparked protests among solar advocates who feared getting rid of these incentives would keep solar adoption from growing.
While this particular rate change only affects new residential solar customers, APS has also reduced the performance-based incentives previously offered to its commercial solar customers.
APS spokeswoman Jenna Shaver said the company has seen a slight decrease in solar installation applications compared to this time last year.
APS received 400 to 500 applications for residential solar installations per month last year, Shaver said. In the final months of last year, it saw a drop in the weekly number of applications received to about 70 to 80 applications.
Shaver said the slowed rate of applications has continued into this year, and if it does not rise, the amount of residential solar installations will not be able to reach last year’s levels.
While residential solar growth may have slowed, Shaver said existing commercial solar structures continue to show promise in downtown Phoenix, especially those at sporting venues. U.S. Airways Center and Chase Field have both added solar shade structures within the past four years, Shaver said.
Besides producing energy for the stadiums, these shade structures also increase the visibility of solar energy in downtown Phoenix. Shaver said solar visibility is an essential part of solar growth in downtown Phoenix but is not being fully taken advantage of right now.
“Our goal has been to make Arizona the solar capital of the U.S.,” Shaver said. “When people come, they are primarily coming to Phoenix. So, what better place than downtown Phoenix to show our commitment to solar.”
Contact the reporter at Kristy.Westgard@asu.edu