Utilities to debate which solar energy technology will win out

Utilities Debate Which Solar Technology Will Win Out at Solar Power Generation. Leaders to Evaluate Merits of Concentrated Solar Power, Photovoltaic, and Concentrated Photovoltaic as US Increases Large-Scale Solar Power.

As the amount of utility-scale solar power continues to increase across the United States, representatives from the country’s major utilities will meet at Solar Power Generation USA to assess the benefits, limitations, and future of different solar technologies. Leaders from major US utilities including NV Energy, Duke Energy, and Southern California Energy will come together in Las Vegas at the end of January to evaluate and determine the future for Concentrated Solar Power, Photovoltaic, and Concentrated Photovoltaic projects. According to Clean Edge’s Utility Solar Assessment Study, solar power will contribute 10 percent of America’s power needs by 2025, yet how this increase will be distributed across all of the available technologies is still to be determined.

“By gathering key decision makers from the major utilities, we look forward to a lively discussion the strengths and weaknesses of each solar technology and how each can continue to play an increasing role in the US’s energy mix,” said Laura Dinnewell, Director of Solar Power Generation USA. “As technologies continue to advance, and the cost of these large scale projects continues to drop, decisions utilities make will drive the adoption of these technologies.”

As reported by Shayle Kann of GTM Research, 2011 saw over 650 MWdc of utility-scale PV connected to the grid, over 150% growth over 2010. It was the first time the U.S. utility market reached meaningful volumes on a global scale. The market however became increasingly competitive and procurement did not increase in proportion with developer interest. In the CSP arena, the high profile switch of several large projects to PV also cast doubt into the CSP sector.

There remains over 10GW of projects in the pipeline with PPAs in place, along with another 35GW of projects hoping to sign PPAs in the next 18 months. As Shayle continues to comment “Unless utility procurement suprises on the upside, 2012 will be a difficult year for developers with early stage pipelines. In addition, the potential imposition of import tariffs on Chinese cells and modules will impact the economics of many projects that had anticipated closing financing this year.

Obtaining PPAs and securing finance for project development will be increasingly competitive in 2012. During the conference’s Day One – Utility Strategy Session, delegates will hear how utilities and PUCs are viewing the economics of solar in current climates and how factors such as solar power’s variable load, the purpose of the solar-generated power (base load vs. peak), energy storage, and dispatchability will impact which technology will be used in future large-scale projects.

Investors including Union Bank, Citigroup and Wells Fargo will be following the discussions closely. As Michael Liebreich of Bloomberg New Energy Finance reports whilst the US jumped into the lead in clean energy investment in 2011 this was achieved thanks in large part to support initiatives such as the federal loan guarantee programme and a Treasury grant programme which have now expired. Whether the funding opportunities remain to support the number of projects hoping to sign PPAs will be hotly debated.

Named the 2011 “Best American Conference” by the Conference Awards, Solar Power Generation USA will feature more than 60 subject-matter experts speaking across four dedicated channels: Concentrated Solar Power (CSP), Photovoltaic (PV), Concentrated Photovoltaic (CPV), and Operation and Maintenance (O&M). Hundreds of industry insiders will decide the future of solar in the US during the event, which runs January 31 through February 2 in Las Vegas.