US to install record 12.6 GW utility-scale PV in 2020; Los Angeles to buy solar at under $20/MWh

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U.S. utility-scale PV costs have fallen over 10% in the last year, driving up demand from utilities and corporate customers. (Image credit: Axelsl)

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US utility-scale PV build hikes as pipeline swells to 37.9 GW

Some 6.2 GW of U.S. utility-scale PV was procured in the second quarter of 2019, raising the contracted PV pipeline to a record 37.9 GW, the Solar Energy Industry Association (SEIA) and Wood Mackenzie Power and Renewables said in their latest quarterly market report.

Utility-scale installations are forecast to hit a record level of 12.6 GW in 2020, the analysts said.

Falling solar prices have spurred demand from utilities and corporate customers.

Over the last year, installed costs for utility-scale fixed-tilt and single-axis tracking projects have fallen by 10.0% and 11.4%, respectively, to an average $0.9/W and $1.01/W in Q2 2019, the report said.

"Several utilities, including Duke Energy, NV Energy, Clean Power Alliance and East Bay Community Energy, have announced large solar procurements, and announcements from corporate offtakers such as Starbucks, Microsoft and Anheuser-Busch have also increased," it said.

Some 8.7 GW of utility-scale PV is currently under construction and an additional 29 GW of projects are scheduled to come online in the next several years, SEIA and Wood Mackenzie said.

                    US PV installation forecast

                                  (Click image to enlarge)

Source: Wood Mackenzie Power and Renewables, September 2019

U.S. corporate demand for solar power is forecast to storm past wind power demand in 2021 and rise to ten times the demand for wind by 2024, Wood Mackenzie said in a separate report published last month.

Tax credits are falling, but demand from commercial and industrial customers is spreading as new sophisticated financial instruments help limit the risks of corporate power purchase agreements [PPAs], Wood Mackenzie said.

Battery storage deployment is set to further improve the business case for solar power projects in the coming years, the report noted.

Los Angeles agrees to buy power from Eland solar-storage project

The Los Angeles Department of Water and Power (LADWP) has agreed two power purchase agreements (PPAs) for 8minute Energy's planned 400 MW Eland solar plus storage plant, the office of Eric Garcetti, Mayor of Los Angeles, announced September 10.

Due online by 2023, the Eland solar plant will consist of two 200 MW plants located on a 2,650 acre site in Kern County, California.

Unanimously approved by LADWP's board, the PPAs include the supply of solar power at a record-low price of below $20/MWh, the mayor's office said. Previously, the lowest U.S. solar PPA price was $23.8/MWh, signed by Nevada utility NV Energy for 8minute's 300 MW Eagle Shadow PV plant in Nevada.

The Eland plant will also include 400 MWh of energy storage, dispatchable at 100 MW for up to four hours at an extra price of $13/MWh, according to media reports.

LADWP will buy 375 MW of solar power and 387.5 MWh of energy storage from the facility and Glensdale Water and Power will buy the remainder 25 MW of solar power and 12.5 MWh storage, the reports said.

The project will generate 700 jobs during a 14-month construction period as well as 40 long-term jobs for the operations and maintenance (O&M) of the facility.

U.S. installed utility-scale battery capacity is set to hike in the coming years, driven by federal and state-level storage mandates and the growing competitiveness of PV plus storage.

                      US utility-scale battery capacity forecast

                                                   (Click image to enlarge)

Source: Energy Information Administration, July 2019

Rapid falls in solar and battery costs and rising renewable energy capacity have triggered a surge in U.S. PV plus storage projects. PV plus storage projects are spreading from Southwest markets into eastern and northern states and starting to compete with gas-fired generation.

In June, NV Energy announced it would sign 1.2 GW of new PPAs for three large-scale solar plus storage projects planned in Clark County, Nevada. The PPAs will include the 690 MW Gemini Solar project, which is expected to host 2,125 MWh of battery storage capacity, according to a draft environmental impact statement (EIS) published by the U.S. Bureau of Land Management (BLM).

South Carolina utility to build 1 GW solar, 200 MW storage

Public utility Santee Cooper plans to build a further 1 GW of solar power in South Carolina by 2024 and install 200 MW of battery storage in 2024-2028, the company announced September 9.

Under a new strategic plan, Santee Cooper will close its 1.3 GW Winyah coal-fired power plant in two phases, eliminating two units in 2023 and the remaining two in 2027. The company will also build new natural gas-fired generation to meet "demand and reliability needs," it said.

In 2017, Santee Cooper, and SCANA, owner of South Carolina Electric & Gas Company (SCE&G), shelved their joint project to build two new 1.1 GW nuclear units at the VC Summer nuclear site in South Carolina. The huge construction project was abandoned following multiple construction delays led to nuclear plant supplier Westinghouse filing for bankruptcy earlier that year.

Santee Cooper now plans to spend $925 million in the next two years to "pay down nuclear debt, and achieve ongoing savings that further accelerate debt payoff – without additional rate increases," it said.

The utility already had plans to install 150 MW of solar power capacity by 2020 and the new battery installations will be the first large-scale storage commitments in South Carolina.

Under the new plan, the share of power sourced from nuclear and renewable sources will rise from 16% in 2020 to 25% by the end of the next decade, Santee Cooper said.

"Roughly 50% would be owned or purchased natural gas generation, constituting a much greener portfolio than the current coal-dominant mix," it said.

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