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Published on June 27th, 2012 | by Silvio Marcacci


Can the US Reach 23 GW Installed Utility-Scale PV Solar?

June 27th, 2012 by  


There’s no question the outlook for solar power in America is incredibly bright, but if a new forecast holds true, we all may need a new pair of sunglasses.

PV Plants Map USA 2012, a new analysis from PV Insider, reveals a staggering 23 gigawatts (GW) of current and potential utility-scale photovoltaic solar (PV) capacity across the United States. By listing the location, developer, size, and power purchaser of each project, this analysis represents a clear route toward America’s clean energy future.

The map details over 200 utility-scale PV solar plants currently operating, under construction, or planned for construction, and was commissioned as part of an overall effort for solar developers to optimize performance and drive down the levelized cost of energy.



Utility-Scale Solar PV Power Plants in Operation

Currently, 46 utility-scale PV plants are in operation across 13 states, totaling 865 megawatts (MW). California leads the way, with nine plants generating 185 MW, but Arizona and New Mexico follow close behind, with 7 plants generating 135 MW and 7 plants generating 125 MW, respectively.

46 utility-scale solar PV plants in operation totaling 865MW

Utility-Scale Solar PV Power Plants Under Construction

When the capacity of utility-scale solar PV plants under construction is added to the total, America’s solar capacity vaults up by an order of magnitude. 28 plants are under construction across 10 states, and will generate 2.9 GW (2,900 MW) once all are operational (most are expected to come online by 2014). California represents an overwhelming amount of this new capacity, with 12 plants representing 2.2 GW of new capacity.

28 utility-scale solar PV plants under construction totaling 2.9GW

Utility-Scale Solar PV Power Plants Under Development

However, the total amount of utility-scale PV in the development pipeline is the truly outstanding aspect of this analysis. 120 plants representing 19.2 GW are being developed across 21 states. Once again, California leads the way with 62 plants totaling 11.6 GW of capacity. Nevada may build 14 plants totaling 2.7 GW of capacity, and Arizona could be home to 10 new plants totaling 1.3 GW of capacity.

122 utility-scale solar PV plants in development totaling 18.9GW

What If?

Of course, some of these plants won’t make it to the operational phase, but what if they did? The Solar Energy Industries Association’s Q1 2012 market report found 4.9 GW of cumulative installed solar electric capacity across the country – including all solar PV and concentrating solar power (CSP) facilities and small-scale installations.

A recent analysis forecasts that if the overall US solar industry simply maintains its 2012 rate of new installations, America would have 17.7 GW installed solar by the end of 2015.

It’s naïve to think skittish investors, regulatory and transmission shortfalls, or local environmental concerns won’t waylay the full list of utility-scale PV plants currently in development. But for every new plant that goes online, utilities lower the cost of generating electricity, reduce emissions, and decrease utility bill variability.

For those goals alone, the PV Insider map should stand out as an action list of solar projects to support through advocacy and investment.

Image Credit: PV solar panels via Shutterstock

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About the Author

Silvio is Principal at Marcacci Communications, a full-service clean energy and climate policy public relations company based in Oakland, CA.

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  • Ross

    Get those plants on-line ASAP.

  • Rahulprabhurr

    But now there is doldrum in pv value chains specifically in manufacturing. A new report which shows the pv production outlook has been released by GTM.

    Get the details here..


  • Bob_Wallace

    How much solar could we have?

    Scientists from major U.S. research institutions have brought out the “Renewable Electricity Futures Study,” pronouncing the very real the possibility of 80 percent renewable energy by 2050.

    The most abundant U.S. renewable resource, according to the study, is solar. The U.S. technical potential of utility-scale PV was estimated at 80,000 gigawatts and CSP was put at 37,000 gigawatts. Distributed rooftop PV was estimated at 700 gigawatts.”


     Lots of good information in this article – worth a read….

  • ThomasGerke

    I say the US will have a total of 50-80 GW by 2015.

    Just made that number up, but I fail to see the limitations. Sooner than later the US PV market will mature to a level similar as the German market today. The market changed so drastically during the last 3 years, it’s propably to abstract for most decision makers to grasp. 

    But today it would be possible to operate utility scale solar plants in the US that produce electricity at a rate of $5-10ct / kWh. (including investment & operating cost over a 25 year lifecycle) 

    Peak-Load power from Solar at $50-100 per MWh sounds alot different than the $210 per MWh listed in the EIA  Annual Energy Outlook 2011 published in late 2010. The question is, since technology is not much cheaper in Germany why is it still so much more expensive to build PV in the US? I guess regulation, permit processes delays and the resulting larger financing costs due to the lack of certainty. The typical “Portfolio-Standard” problem compared to FiTs. 🙂 So, 50-80GW I say… we’ll see 😀

    • Silvio

      I hope you’re right!

    • ” I guess regulation, permit processes delays and the resulting larger financing costs due to the lack of certainty. ”

      Yep, these seem to be the issues.

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