Utility Solar: U.S. Market Takes Off

How are utilities adopting large-scale, centralized solar power? Who are the leading players? This report presents an overview of the development of utility solar in the United States with installation data, profiles of all of the largest projects, and project case studies.

It covers commissioned installations having utilities and other purchasers of wholesale power as customers, rather than equipment sales or project announcements. The focus is on photovoltaic (PV) plants larger than 10 MW. The report includes comprehensive installation data for PV and concentrating solar power from 2004 through the present, with early results and informed projections for 2010.

The utility segment is now on a par with commercial and residential segments by volume and growing faster—by a factor of ten. In 2010, the segment grew nearly 400 percent to a total of 251 megawatts (MW). Utility solar thermal and photovoltaic is emerging as a distinct market, different from other segments in technology, geographic concentration, types of parties involved, regulatory drivers, and—crucially—challenges for project developers.

This study presents quantitative analyses of installation and other project information from public sources and a proprietary database, including informed projections for 2010. Profiles and case studies are based on industry documents and interviews.

Sample Findings in This Report

After years of pilot projects, utilities in the United States are now commissioning numerous solar electric power installations of 10 megawatts (MW) or greater. The U.S. utility market has taken off.

The top five findings of this report are as follows:

1. By the close of 2010, utility customer installations will have seen annual growth of nearly 400 percent, from 65 MW in 2009 to 251 MW in 2010.

2. The utility sector is now about the same size as the commercial sector but growing much faster than either the commercial or the residential sector, as shown in Figure 1.0.1.

3. Of all utility installations, 68 percent are projects of 10 MW or greater.

4. Project locations are not concentrated in the states, such as California, that have accounted for most of this country’s PV installed base in the past. The state with the most projects larger than 10 MW is Florida.

5. The installers with multiple projects greater than 10 MW are (in alphabetical order) First Solar, juwi solar, and SunPower.