A new report has found that more than half of all new US utility-scale solar installations in 2016 will be built above obligations set in states’ Renewable Portfolio Standards.
According to new figures published in a new report, The Next Wave of US Utility Power: Procurement beyond the RPS, GTM Research predicts that more than half of all new utility-scale solar built in the United States during 2016 will fall outside of the obligations to state-mandated renewable energy requirements, also known as Renewable Portfolio Standards (RPS, i.e., regulations that require a certain amount of energy production to be sourced from renewable energy sources). Specifically, GTM predicts that more than 6 GW of non-RPS utility-scale solar will come online in 2016 — well above the 4.1 GW installed for the entire sector during 2015, which itself was a record-breaking year.
GTM Research concluded in the report that the “legislated renewable energy targets” across 36 US states and DC, i.e., the country’s Renewable Portfolio Standards, were largely responsible for the 13.8 GW of utility-scale solar installed in the US throughout 2015.
Percent Breakdown of Utility PV Driven by RPS and Non-RPS Mechanisms
The fact that so much utility-scale solar will be installed beyond these regulations “signals the economic competitiveness of solar for utilities and corporations meeting future power generation needs.” Specifically, GTM Research concludes that there are two factors driving this growth: The falling cost of solar — as utility-scale solar is now economically competitive with other electricity generation sources in the US, while also meeting peak power needs; and the fact that utility-scale solar arrays lock in multi-year pricing agreements, which offer stability compared to competing natural gas prices.
“The wheels are in motion for a historic year for the utility-scale PV market,” said Colin Smith, lead author of the report and solar analyst with GTM Research. “Utilities are embracing solar and voluntarily procuring vast amounts of utility-scale PV outside of RPS obligations.”
Utility PV Installations 2010-2015
2016’s growth has been given a strong boost thanks to the decision made by the US Congress in December to extend the solar Production Tax Credit for five more years. The move came following many months of campaigning and lobbying by trade groups and supporters, and also included the extension of the wind Investment Tax Credit. GTM Research predicts that, as a result of the extension, the ceiling on competitive Power Purchase Agreement pricing will drop below $60 per MWh. This will allow voluntary procurement by small municipal utilities and co-ops, and retail customer procurement of centralized PV, to drive a share of the year’s utility-scale solar PV market.
Top State Markets for Contracted Utility PV Projects Outside of RPS Obligations
“Corporations are diving into solar headfirst with entities like Amazon, Google, Kaiser Permanente, and Cisco powering their facilities with off-site solar,” said Smith. “We already have a 2 gigawatt pipeline and expect that to be one of the fastest growing opportunities for U.S. solar in the next few years.”
Specifically, GTM Research names California, Georgia, North Carolina, Texas, and Utah as the leading states markets for non-RPS projects — though the market as a whole is relatively diverse, with 19 state markets with at least 50 MW of non-RPS utility-scale solar in development.
The benefits of the United States’ RPS policies are none-too shabby themselves, according to a US Department of Energy’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory report, analysing 2013 figures. Accordingly, an estimated $2.2 billion in benefits accompanying reduced greenhouse gas emissions, and $5.2 billion in benefits accompanying the reduction of other air pollutant emissions, resulted from US state RPS policies in 2013.
Given the strong growth of renewables in the US, the figures for 2014 and 2015 are likely to be much larger.