A new detailed study of the U.S. utility market for solar applications by market research firm, Emerging Energy Research (EER) highlights the current and future pipeline of PV installations expected from the U.S. utilities. The utility-scale PV project pipeline has already reached 4.8GW with utilities expected to add a further 21.5GW to their generation portfolios between 2009 and 2020. Compared to the 77 MW of utility-driven projects currently operating, an explosion in the market is rapidly gaining momentum.
According to EER’s study, utilities have been catalyzed into action by the regulatory pressures at the state and national levels as well as the widespread cost reductions in the PV sector. This has also been helped by fossil fuel price volatility and overarching carbon concerns, the report notes. With the versatility of solar power, utilities can leverage multi-pronged strategies.
EER has also forecasted that the US PV market will accelerate between 2011 and 2015, growing from 2GW in 2011 to 12GW in 2015, more than a 460% increase.
“Unlike other larger, centralized power generation technologies such as natural gas, wind, concentrated solar power, and geothermal, PV offers scale and unique siting versatility,” says EER Solar Research Director, Reese Tisdale. “If PV’s declining economic forecasts come to fruition to foster more widespread demand — centralized, commercial, and residential segments — utilities will want to be at the industry’s forefront to shape the market in their favour.”
The report highlights that the conservative utilities market is starting to embrace PV technology, in particular c-Si and CdTe thin film technologies, especially when PV manufacturers take a direct role in projects and risks associated.
However, EER is more sceptical about CPV technology adoption, citing the cost reductions seen in conventional c-Si and some thin film technologies that are now squeezing CPV previous lower cost-per-watt capabilities. CPV is now hampered by the lack of deployment compare to conventional modules, further curtailing its potential attractiveness to utilities.
The report also identifies the growing use of trackers for projects as utilities try to maximise investments. According to EER, utilities using trackers increase output by 20% to 30% when tracking systems are deployed. EER said that 712MW of PV projects that have been announced will utilize tracking systems.
PPAs would also continue to be the primary method of utility PV procurement. However, the share of projects being owned by utilities is likely to be 30% to 45% between 2009 and 2011, as utilities take advantage of national incentives and increase their comfort with and understanding of PV. EER expects 16.1GW of PPAs are likely to be signed by 2020.