The Oregon Department of Energy has created a web tool showing the phenomenal growth of solar energy in Oregon in the last 20 years. In 1999, 15 tiny solar facilities were all that existed in the state. By 2018 the state appears to be carpeted in a sea of solar panels.
In those 20 years, some amazing changes took place:
- The average output of a solar project in Oregon grew from 0.6 kilowatts to over 6 megawatts (a megawatt is 1,000 kilowatts);
- The cost to install a solar project dropped from $16.53 per watt to $4.05 per watt;
- Today, total generation capacity tops 600 megawatts. About 450 megawatts is produced by or for utilities and about 150 megawatts directly by commercial or residential users; and
- Today, solar energy in Oregon can generate over 1.1 million megawatt hours (MWh) of electricity. A one-megawatt facility operating at full capacity will produce 1 MWh of electricity in one hour, which in turn will on average power about 650-750 homes for an hour. This is a tenfold increase in less than four years.
In 1999, all the solar facilities in the state generated (at most) about 5 MWh per year. Today, the largest project – Solar Star Oregon II in Deschutes County – can generate over 101,000 MWh in a year. At least 15 facilities can generate more than 21,000 MWh per year.
Who uses that power? Customers of the three investor owned utilities predictably lead the pack, with PGE at 969,000 MWh, Pacific Power at 600,000 MWh and Idaho Power at 104,000 MWh per year. But 38 different electricity providers of all sizes have at least some solar on their systems.
Renewable energy has its limitations, and its growth has had its ups and downs over the last 20 years. But as with all new technologies, in the long run success and familiarity has produced better results and lower costs, which in turn will feed even more adoption and integration. After 20 years of robust growth, it is clear that solar energy in Oregon is here to stay.