Obama Administration driving force behind utility-scale PV, says DOE

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Source: Flickr/White House

New analysis from the US Department of Energy (DOE) suggests that the Obama Administration was the pinoeer of utility-scale PV projects in the US, and coincides with a new renewable energy target for civilian agencies to develop 1GW of clean electricity by 2021.

The news also comes simultaneous to the White House announcing its biggest federal investment in clean energy to date via the 210MW Mesquite III solar facility that will provide power to 14 US Navy installations.

The DOE's new update to a 2015 report postulates that early support for solar PV projects from the Administration was what sparked the massive expansion of utility-scale solar in the US. Indeed, the new analysis argues that the loans provided by the DOE to the first five utility-scale solar projects larger than 100MW helped demonstrate the technology as bankable and successful, and contingently led to private financing of utility-scale projects at a ten-fold increase.

Undeniably, not one single utility-scale solar PV project larger than 20MW existed in the US before Obama took office. But beginning in 2009, DOE’s Loan Programmes Office provided more than US$4.6 billion in loan guarantees to support the construction of the first five large-scale utility projects.

“When the Obama administration began, there were zero large-scale solar PV projects in the United States. Our Loan Programs Office committed funding for the first five, and today we can say 45 more have been built with private financing, opening a clean energy market that did not exist before,” said Secretary of Energy Ernest Moniz. “Mesquite Solar 1 and 3 exemplify how the Energy Department provides crucial early financing and technical support to demonstrate cutting-edge projects at commercial scale to support new markets, work with lenders, and provide confidence to investors so the Department can then step aside to let industry take over. We’re excited for the ongoing opportunity to help more innovative technologies overcome hurdles to commercial maturity.”

Currently, the DOE's Loans Programme Office supports a portfolio of more than US$30 billion in loans, loan guarantees, and commitments, supporting more than 30 closed and committed projects.

1GW of renewables by 2021

The new energy target for 1GW by 2021 will serve to promote the installation of renewable energy projects on federal land; after recent squabbles over the role of federal subsidies in renewables. In addition, the goal will spearhead the development of new solar through PPAs and procurement of bundled green energy to power federal facilities, according to a White House blog post.

The new goal fortifies last year’s target of 30% renewables by 2025 for federal government. According to White House statistics, since 2010, federal agencies have increased the use of solar five-fold, with solar now accounting for 19% of renewables and 180MW of onsite power.

The US has been fortunate in its federal involvement in the solar industry. The US Department of Energy’s SunShot Initiative has led many solar campaigns and provided funds to organisations innovating in the industry. Moreover, Obama’s recent initiative for solar targeted at low-moderate income households opened up potential to unlock 'huge new markets' essential for realising the nation’s energy goals, according to industry experts.

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