Considerations for Utility-Scale Solar Projects Whitepaper
According to the Solar Electric Power Association (SEPA), 4.2 GV of solar capacity was installed in the U.S. in 2013, bringing the total cumulative capacity to over 10.5 GW.
Utility-scale photovoltaics (PV) increased from five percent of total annual PV installations in 2008 to 54 percent in 2012. In fact, 2012 was the first year that utility-scale PV composed the largest segment of the U.S. PV market, a position it is likely to retain through at least 2016, when the Investment Tax Credit drops from 30 percent to 10 percent. Besides the Investment Tax Credit, another reason for the growth in utility-scale PV projects relates to the various state renewable portfolio requirements or goals, for which solar is a very viable option. And another reason for the growth of PV technology in general is the continuing reduction in the cost of PV panels, which have dropped approximately one-third from 2008 to 2012. In April 2014, SEPA released its seventh annual Utility Solar Rankings report. According to the report, the top ten utilities accounted for 82 percent of all integrated solar capacity in 2013. The top five utilities are: Pacific Gas & Electric (1471 MW), San Diego Gas & Electric (643 MW), Arizona Public Service (417 MW), Southern California Edison (373 MW), and Duke Energy (137 MW). While four of these five are located in the Southwest U.S., large amounts of utility-scale solar are also in place in other parts of the country. In fact, the next fi ve utilities in the rankings are located in Massachusetts/Rhode Island, New Jersey, Hawaii, Georgia, and North Carolina/ South Carolina, respectively. In addition, the number one-ranked utility in terms of watts-per-customer is Massachusetts-based Sterling Municipal Light (831 watts per customer). According to a 204-page report titled, “Utility Scale Solar Power Plants: A Guide for Developers and Investors,” published by the International Finance Corporation of the World Bank, there are several important steps utilities need to take if they are considering building solar farms. These are: Project Development, Site Selection, Energy Yield Prediction, Plant Design, Permits and Licensing, Construction, Commissioning, Operations & Maintenance, and Economics & Financial Modeling. Details on all of these are available in the free report at www.ifc.org/hb-solarpowerplants. And, according to an article in the July 2012 issue of Solar Industry Magazine, titled “Essential Due Diligence Steps for Utility-Scale Photovoltaic Projects,” there are eight steps involved: Solar Resource Assessment; Major Component Technology Review; Engineering Review of Electrical Design and Civil Design; Equipment Supply and Site Construction Arrangements; Transmission, Interconnection and Curtailment; Energy Sales Arrangements; Environmental and Permitting Status; and Operations and Maintenance Plans/Budget. For utilities interested in more information on utility-scale solar projects, there are some other useful sources. These include: A reference/resource site titled “Photovoltaics for Electricity Providers,” maintained by the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL): www.nrel.gov/learning/ep_photovoltaics.html.