Science Notes

Sunny Colorado is Well Suited to Growth in Energy Production

By Mikkela Blanton

May 2021

It’s well known that Colorado residents love the weather; even on very cold days in the middle of winter, it’s not uncommon for the sun to be shining. While it may not be exactly precise today, a 1990 study conducted by the Colorado Climate Center found that there’s an average of 300 days of sunshine per year in the state. With the recent rise in use of renewable energy technologies and a statewide goal to curb greenhouse gas emissions, all that sunshine means that Colorado is well-positioned for the adoption of solar technologies on a large scale. 

Photo by American Public Power Association on Unsplash

Solar Energy in Colorado Today 

Solar power in Colorado has burgeoned. In fact, as of 2020, Colorado was ranked 13th in the nation for installed solar capacity. The growth can be attributed, in part, to Colorado’s Renewable Portfolio Standard (RPS), which requires an increase in production from renewable energy sources, as well as the state’s net metering laws. Net metering laws allow consumers who generate their own energy to use that energy at any time, regardless of when it’s generated. For example, a homeowner who generates electricity through solar panels on their roof during the daytime can use that energy in the evening; customers are only billed for their “net” energy use. 

In addition to renewable energy goals and favorable net metering policies, there’s another thing driving solar installation in Colorado: price. 

Today, the cost of solar energy is 89% cheaper than it was 10 years ago, and building solar farms is significantly less expensive than building fossil fuel plants. When asked about what fueled the transition from solar primarily being used by residential homeowners to large solar farms measured in square miles, Xcel Energy’s vice president of planning and strategy, Jonathan Adelman, told the Colorado Sun “The simple answer is price.” 

But what about when it’s not sunny?

One complication associated with both solar and wind energy is that neither can provide energy on demand when Mother Nature isn’t cooperating – if the sun’s not shining, there’s no solar energy; if the wind’s not blowing, turbines can’t spin. Power storage for renewable energy has always been complicated, but new technologies are driving innovation. 

The Future of Solar 

For the first time ever, new solar arrays built in Colorado will include significant power storage capacity, which will make the grid more reliable and, likely, further aid in the growth of solar energy. Adding battery storage at the distribution level will also be key in the future. 

While the technology is now less expensive and more reliable than ever before, there are still some challenges to large-scale solar deployment. Namely, transmission lines don’t always exist in areas of optimal development for solar (or wind). While all of the solar and wind farms the state needs to power itself could be built relatively quickly, developing the transition lines could take a decade. 

State of the Policy

While price – not policy – may be the primary driver of solar energy in our state, GHG-reduction goals support the transition to renewables. As part of Colorado’s Greenhouse Gas Pollution Reduction Roadmap, the state has committed to a continued “swift transition away from coal to renewable energy.” Xcel Energy, the largest electric utility in the state, has committed to reducing its greenhouse gas emissions by 80% by 2030.

While there are currently no state-level incentives for businesses or individuals to install solar panels in Colorado, there are some local incentives offered by county and city governments, as well as utility companies. 

As solar energy continues to scale up, the state becomes increasingly closer to reaching its goal of 100% renewable energy by 2040. 

Additional Resources


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