Until now, the U.S. solar photovoltaics (PV) market has beendominated by small to intermediate-scale systems installed on thecustomer side of the meter, which serve to displace grid electricityused by individual electricity customers with clean solar-generatedelectricity.
This clearly made sense when PV costs were stillrelatively high because “behind-the-meter” PV electricity competesagainst retail utility electricity rates, or the “all-in” price ofdelivering electricity to consumers, which includes the costs ofgeneration, transmission, distribution, and other utility operationsand overhead. States with high retail rates, along with effective netmetering and interconnection rules and targeted incentive programs,have experienced the bulk of this development. And this market segmentwill continue to grow and likely accelerate in the coming years. But a new wave of PV project development at “utility-scale,” ormulti-megawatt (MW) project sizes, is taking shape as PV costs continueto move down the industry learning curve. U.S. electric utilities areincreasingly motivated by the need to comply with state renewableenergy portfolio standards and to prepare for regulation of carbonemissions.
These utilities are also realizing that PV can be deployed insmaller but significant power blocks that can be sited more easily andbrought into production much more quickly than other generationoptions. And investor-owned utilities (IOUs) can now use the 30%Federal business energy investment tax credit (ITC) for solar, a creditthat is available through 2016.
All of this points to a flood of utility-scale PV projects in theyears ahead. Already, a number of IOUs are either deploying orpreparing to deploy PV. This past year, the first utility-scale PVpower plants (35 MW in total) were built in Florida to supply Florida Power & Light. In Nevada, NV Energy has contracted for 46 MW from two projects that will come on line in 2010. And in California, both Pacific Gas and Electric and Southern California Edisonare launching programs that will each result in 500 MW of larger-scaledistributed PV generation from projects owned both by the utilities andnon-utility developers.
Publicly-owned utilities (POUs) are also pursuing PV projects. Tri-State Generation and Transmission Association will purchase power from a 30-MW project in New Mexico, Salt River Project from a 20-MW project in Arizona, and POUs in Texas, such as Austin Energy and CPS Energy, have committed to multi-MW PV purchases.
Finally, non-regulated generation companies, like Sempra Energy,are locating large PV projects on available lands surrounding existingpower plants where siting is less restricted and transmission isalready available. Sempra has utility-scale PV projects underdevelopment in both Nevada and Arizona.
And this is by no means an exhaustive list, as utility-scale PV projects are also moving forward in Colorado, Illinois, Maryland, New York, North Carolina, and Ohio.And although feed-in tariffs (FiTs) have yet to gain significanttraction in the U.S., programs currently being designed in Californiacould result in the deployment of nearly 2,000 MW of utility-scalesolar over the next several years.
PV is going utility scale!