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Published on November 30th, 2014 | by James Ayre


Installations Of New Utility-Scale Solar Projects In US Down 31% On Last Year

November 30th, 2014 by  

solar panels, north carolina utility-scaleThe installation rate of new utility-scale solar projects in the US has fallen considerably so far this year as compared to 2013 — currently, the new capacity is down 31% as compared to last year, according to the Federal Electricity Regulatory Commission.

The figures show that between January and October 2014 “just” 1,801 MW of utility-scale solar projects have been installed in the country (across 208 projects) — as compared to 2,628 MW of utility-scale solar capacity installed between January and October 2013 (across 239 projects).

October 2014 saw just 31 MW of new utility-scale solar projects come online (across five projects) — not exactly inspiring numbers. (These figures were published by the Federal Electricity Regulatory Commission’s (FERC) Office of Energy Projects.)

These low numbers are calling into question the ability to achieve the forecasts set out for 2014 with regard to new utility-scale solar projects in the US.

With regard to those forecasts, ROTH Capital made the prediction at the beginning of the year that 2014 would see 6.5 GW of new solar PV capacity installed in the US. As part of that prediction, ROTH Capital predicted that the residential and commercial markets would account for about 45% of the forecast.

If this forecast is to be achieved, that means that roughly 3.5 GW of new utility-scale capacity will have to come online by the end of the year — a month or so away. Not likely to happen, to put it lightly.

With regard to solar’s comparisons to other modes of energy generation, 2014 has seen over 5.3 GW of new natural gas generating capacity come online so far. Hmm.

It’s worth noting that, when taken as a proportion of overall new generating capacity, solar energy accounts for roughly the same percentage as it did last year — 18% this year as compared to 20% last year.

Image Credit: NC Energy Center

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About the Author

James Ayre's background is predominantly in geopolitics and history, but he has an obsessive interest in pretty much everything. After an early life spent in the Imperial Free City of Dortmund, James followed the river Ruhr to Cofbuokheim, where he attended the University of Astnide. And where he also briefly considered entering the coal mining business. He currently writes for a living, on a broad variety of subjects, ranging from science, to politics, to military history, to renewable energy. You can follow his work on Google+.

  • sivadasan

    It seems there is something wrong about the parameters used to assess the solar potential. According to a report on solar potential of Kerala state (area 38000 sq km and population 33 Millions) prepared by WISE is reported here http://bit.ly/1n7mWZP . As such India’s solar potential can be much more.

  • Doug Mac

    I say “don’t worry about utility-scale solar”.

    What we should encourage is rooftop distributed solar, which:

    a. doesn’t require infrastructure projects like new transmission lines
    b. empowers individuals and businesses who invest their own capital
    c. doesn’t require environmental reviews or engender the opposition of
    environmental groups or endanger species

    Distributed generation is far superior to utility-scale operations–i.e. power to
    the people, not near-sighted, reactionary utility companies who seem to
    forget the “public license” they’ve been given to make so much dough over the decades. Screw ’em.

    With enough solar, we can shut down ALL of the dirty coal and the even more
    dangerous NUKES (remember Fukushima, Chernobyl, TMI ???).

    ps: I built an 8 kW solar pv grid tie system in 2011, and haven’t bought any power from our local electric utility since. And now, prices have dropped enough to make the ROE even better than the 5-6 cents per kWh that my system produces (yes, that’s right, one-half of the grid retail price here in PA: don’t let anyone tell you that parity isn’t here, baby, because it IS!)

  • RobS

    The article fails to take into account the lumpiness of the data due to the scale of the industry. It would only take one or two average sized projects to come on line in November or December to even things up. Furthermore if just one large project had been delayed and counted in the 2014 numbers and removed from the 2013 stat then we’d also be even or better for 2014. Not to mention that all of these numbers ignore solars true strength which is distributed rooftop generation.

  • Billtoe

    The article is misleading because installations are not counted until they are online. You would need to list the size of all active projects that should be online by the end of the year to produce an accurate analysis. The article makes it sound like GW projects will need to be built from scratch in the next month.

  • JamesWimberley

    You can’t infer a trend from one month’s data, especially when the data are very lumpy, as here – they only relate to five projects. The significant item is the 30% drop in YTD installation compared to the same period last year. Any theories? Is it the reaching of state renewable energy requirements? It’s probably too early for the possible expiry of the solar PTC in 2016 to influence timing yet.

  • David in Bushwick

    So is all that new natural gas generation replacing coal power? It’s doubtful overall power consumption is increasing that much. And at least there is no new coal which is always a good thing.
    Utility-scale solar needs to by embraced by utilities as they inevitably lose demand due to renewables and efficiency. It’s amazing they don’t get on the EV bandwagon which only helps their bottom line but I suppose they view that as joining the enemy.
    Changing their fossil fool minds would seem insurmountable.

    • Bob_Wallace

      NG has replaced a lot of coal. Coal peaked back in 1988 at 56.9% when NG produced only 9.3%. Over the following years coal dropped to about 40% while NG rose to about 30%. Nuclear has remained constant in the 19% to 20% range. Petroleum went from over 5% to under 1%.

      Consumption hit a peak in 2007 and has fallen a small amount since then.

      What we have been seeing the last few years is fossil fuels losing market share to renewables. We’re heading in the right direction. Now we need to accelerate.

  • madflower

    Grid parity for solar is only currently in 10 states (projected to be all 50 by 2016). Keeping the market alive so they can -improve- is probably more important then installed capacity. As much as I rip on NG, it is more flexible then coal in regards to balancing the grid, and most of the NG facilities are replacing coal or nuclear plants which are extremely poor at cycling. This eases some of the “storage” concerns with solar, and puts utilities in a position where they aren’t totally screwed as the price drops for solar.

    Plus, in other countries like africa, the middle east, Europe and if we could sell stuff in China and Japan, have higher energy costs which helps our trade balance, but also allows the manufacturers to make money and improve their process as well as scale, and lower their prices.

    In otherwords, lower US installed capacity isn’t the end of the world, if we can keep them in business, and they can profit enough to stay in business and have enough money to make improvements. The way the market has been moving, in 4 years solar might be significantly lower then grid power, and you will see something similar to what is going on in hawaii in a large number of states, but the problems will have already been addressed. Utilities won’t be adapting NEW technology, they will be adopting PROVEN technology which is what they LIKE.

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