Occasionally, we at the SolarSMART project are asked, “why study solar energy in Georgia?” Certainly, the Peach State does not come to the top of one’s mind when considering solar energy in the United States – that space is generally reserved for states west of the Mississippi such as California, Arizona, and so on. However, we feel the question should be not why study Georgia, but why not engage in the Georgia energy landscape?
Georgia is the 8th largest state in the U.S. by population, and like other “Sun Belt” states that have adopted solar recently experienced a significant population growth over the last decade. The resulting effect is Georgia has emerged as one of the largest economies in the world (yes, on its own).
Georgia takes scale seriously both in terms of its economic impact and its size. As the largest state east of the Mississippi River, Georgians live in a variety of urban, suburban, rural, extremely rural locations. Where you live in Georgia matters when it comes to your energy needs, as the agriculturalists who drive Georgia’s nationally-leading pecan industry have different demands than their fellow Georgians who navigate living in suburban Atlanta. What they share is a common expense: electricity. According to WalletHub, Georgia has the fourth highest average residential electricity costs in the nation. Driven in no small part by the tremendous demand for cooling during much of the year, Georgians spend on average $154 a month on power.
These factors alone would make Georgia interesting, but when you account for the role solar does and could play in the Georgia landscape, it makes the story of Georgia’s solar adoption even more interesting. In the last decade, Georgia grew from a limited producer of photovoltaic solar electricity to one of the top ten producers nationwide. Driven in no small part by large-scale adoption in the utility and commercial sector, over a gigawatt of PV solar came online during 2016 and hundreds more megawatts are planned for the near future. Even so, the residential solar sector – in a pattern that appears to be unique to Georgia – continues to be one of the smallest in the United States.
Georgia is a unique place in the U.S. energy landscape, one that not only continues to defy trends but defies our understanding of what role solar can play in our communities and lives. Something unique is happening here, and we at SolarSMART and the Social Responsibility CODEC Lab see it as our responsibility to go beyond these trends to understand how, where, and why solar is on Georgia’s mind. The question is more than academic – Georgians living in Valdosta, Dalton, and all places in between make decisions within the context of their unique lives. By documenting these stories, engaging with Georgians in their communities, we intend to illuminate what makes Georgia’s energy story not only unique but important for national and international energy trends.