For the first time the project pipeline of utility-scale solar projects in the country has surpassed not just wind projects but also natural gas projects. That’s one key takeaway from the Lawrence Berkeley Lab’s sixth annual Utility-Scale Solar report, which found that the 188.5 gigawatt pipeline of PV projects is eight times more than the amount of solar power that’s installed in the US.
“Large-scale solar is an increasingly important piece of how we’re decarbonizing our economy, and the information in this new report is a solid testament to that piece of the clean energy revolution,” observed John Rogers, senior energy analyst with the Union of Concerned Scientists, in a piece about the report.
The report found that there’s an interconnection queue of 188.5 gigawatts of utility-scale PV, which it classifies as 5 megawatts and above, and that the majority, 99.2 GWs of projects, were added to the queue last year. The new report found that it represented 37 percent of all the generating capacity in such queues. Wind power represented 36 percent in the queue and natural gas represented 22 percent of the queue of projects.
One of the factors that’s leading to the explosion in planned utility-scale solar projects, according to the report, is price both for the panels and overall projects and power purchase agreements (PPAs). “Driven by lower installed project prices and improving capacity factors, levelized PPA prices for utility-scale PV have fallen dramatically over time,” the report concluded. It found that between 2006 and 2012 the cost of utility-scale solar projects fell, on average, between $20 per megawatt hour and $30 per MWh every year.
Price declines of $10 per MWh continued from 2013 to 2016. “Most recent PPAs in our sample—including many outside of California and the Southwest—are priced at or below $40/MWh levelized (in real 2017 dollars), with a few priced as aggressively as ~$20/MWh,” the report stated.
Researchers also noted that solar’s range and reach is becoming increasingly diverse. The report noted that two thirds of states now have solar projects that are 5 megawatts or larger and the southeastern US is quickly emerging as a big region for solar as projects are built out and proposed in states like Florida, both Carolinas and Georgia.
“If my math is correct, having 33 states with large-scale solar leaves 17 without. So another thing to watch is who’s next, and where else growth will happen,” Rogers observed. “Many of the missing states are in the Great Plains, where the wind resource means customers have another fabulous renewable energy option to draw on. But solar makes a great complement to wind. And the wind-related tax credit is phasing out more quickly than the solar ITC, meaning the relative economics will shift in solar’s favor.”
The report also anticipated that energy storage will add value to utility-scale solar as well, particularly as it continues to fall in price. “As PV plus battery storage becomes more cost-effective, a number of developers are regularly offering it as a viable upgrade to standalone PV,” the research authors wrote.
They concluded that not all the projects in the pipeline will be built. But they noted that “analysts do expect strong growth in new installations through at least 2023, driven in part by the long-term extension of the 30% ITC (and, along with the extension, favorable “construction start” guidance from the IRS), coupled with utility-scale PV’s declining costs.”Tweet