In early May, Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick was joined by members of his administration, legislators and industry representatives to announce that Massachusetts had reached its goal of installing 250 MW of solar photovoltaic (PV) systems. 

(Photo: Ben Bocko / Governor's Office)
The achievement is significant, but more impressive is how that goal was achieved.

Massachusetts was successful because committed, coordinated leadership has pursued clear goals through a collaborative, inclusive, stakeholder-driven process.  Wrestling with the sometimes competing priorities of suppliers and customers, regulators and the regulated, investors supplying capital and others needing it, individuals and businesses, is fraught with challenges.  But  that process has delivered a level of transparency and trust among all the players that has been essential to continuing progress and support through the inevitable ups and downs, and the large amount of uncertainty, inherent in such a transformative economic undertaking.

It’s worth a quick look back at what’s been accomplished because of that approach, especially in light of the announcement at that same event of an even more ambitious goal of 1,600 MW of installed solar PV by 2020.

In 2008, Governor Patrick announced his goal of installing 250 MW of solar PV in Massachusetts by 2017 – an ambitious target seemingly plucked out of the air.  There was, after all, no defined plan or program in place to support such an effort.  That year, though, the legislature passed and Patrick signed the Green Communities Act and several other key pieces of legislation enabling programs to achieve that goal.  At the end of that year, there was less than 9 MW of installed solar PV in Massachusetts.

In June, 2013, Massachusetts has over 250 MW of solar PV installed, achieving an ambitious goal four years ahead of schedule.  Installations are spread across all sectors of the economy – residential, commercial, industrial, government, education, agriculture, retail and more.  More solar PV generating capacity is installed at Massachusetts K-12 schools today than was in the entire state four years previously.

Although large systems (> 1 MW) make up a significant share of the total generating capacity (44%), over 5,000 residential systems have been installed with a total capacity of 30 MW.  Residential systems represent over 10% of total capacity, a significant accomplishment considering that the average large installation is 320 times the size of the 6 kW average residential system.

This diverse mix has led to a robust solar industry value chain, with some 250 companies employing over 4,500 people in Massachusetts.  In 2012, $476 million was invested in installing solar systems.  The level of activity had another significant benefit for Massachusetts homeowners and businesses – the average cost of installing solar in Massachusetts dropped 29% in 2012, outpacing the 10% decline nationally.

As Massachusetts looks to the future, it’s worth noting that this new target of 1600 MW was set through that stakeholder process that has been so successful in reaching the initial target.  In fact, the 1600 MW target was the most ambitious of the ones the administration considered.  An African proverb advises “if you want to run fast, run alone; if you want to run far, run together”.  Massachusetts’ success in solar PV has demonstrated that you can run both far and fast by running together.

Run far, run fast – solar PV in Massachusetts