The U.S. solar market has been growing at an astronomical rate in recent years, reaching a new milestone of more than 20 GW of total operational solar photovoltaic (PV) capacity. The Washington Post declared “Solar energy is poised for yet another record year,” referencing GTM Research and the Solar Energy Industries Association’s Q2 2015 U.S. Solar Market Insight report released this week. According to the report, the U.S. installed 1,393 MW of solar PV, bringing total installed capacity to 22.7 GW - enough to power 4.6 million American homes. The growth was driven by 729 MW of utility-scale solar projects, as well as residential solar, that generated a record quarter of 70 percent growth year-over-year. And that’s just the beginning.
SEIA and GTM Research are predicting that, in 2015, the U.S. solar market will grow 24 percent more than last year’s growth. 2014 was a record-breaking year in its own right, as was 2013, and the industry shows no signs of flagging.
AEE member companies in solar energy are leading the charge. First up: First Solar, announced a 20-year power purchase agreement (PPA) with the Sacramento Municipal Utility District (SMUD) to build a 10.88 MW solar array on land once occupied by a nuclear power facility. The site, which stopped producing power in June 1989, had previously housed one of the world’s first utility-scale solar farms when it installed 3.2 MW of solar over six arrays in 1984. According to the Sacramento Bee, in 2013, five of the six arrays were decommissioned, as they had reached the end of their operational life.
The project will supply SMUD’s SolarShares program, which allows for local businesses to choose solar energy. Customer access to renewable energy has been instrumental for businesses from California to North Carolina.
Again, we saw that solar energy is cost-competitive with more traditional sources of electricity generation after Luminant purchased 116 MW of solar from AEE member SunEdison this week. Luminant, which is the biggest independent power producer in oil-rich Texas, has entered a PPA with SunEdison scheduled to begin in late 2016. In 2012, Luminant’s portfolio was 70 percent coal, with nuclear generation and a tiny amount of natural gas generation capacity making up the remaining 30 percent. According to CEO Mac McFarland, the purchase was consistent with Luminant’s commitment to competitive projects. “Solar generation costs have become increasingly competitive,” MacFarland said in a press release. In 2014, Austin Energy, a city-owned utility, reached the same conclusion: solar was a cost-effective source of generation. Austin Energy partnered with AEE member Recurrent Energy to build a 150 MW solar project.
Another AEE member, SolarCity, announced a partnership with Hawaii’s Kauai Island Utility Cooperative (KIUC) to purchase the first “fully-dispatchable utility-scale solar facility in the U.S.” The facility will include both a 13 MW solar generation installation and a 52 MW/h battery storage system. Although the idea of “solar-plus-storage” has surfaced before, this marks the first combination of solar and storage in a system provided by a single company.
SolarCity also announced that the company would be teaming up with University of California-San Diego and the SunSpec alliance to launch a new program that will test smart inverters. Smart inverters are an advanced technology that can perform complicated functions to ease the incorporation of solar into the grid, This includes balancing voltage on distribution grid circuits and disconnecting and reconnecting to the grid to provide backup power. “We have an ensemble cast of partners here,” SunSpec Alliance chairman Tom Tansy said to Greentech Media. Those partners include global manufacturers like ABB, SolarEdge, and AEE member Enphase Energy.
Speaking of storage, AEE member company Stem, a leader in behind-the-meter battery storage, was featured on the 100th episode of Greentech Media’s Energy Gang podcast. Stem had more big news reported by Utility Dive - the company successfully bid aggregated customer storage systems, through a PG&E pilot program, into the California ISO (CAISO) real-time market as a demand response resource - a first in the state's energy markets, according to the company. Listen to Stem CEO John Carrington discuss how the company is planning to make energy storage “a market maker, not a price taker.”
Finally, this week the U.S. Department of Energy released its second Quadrennial Technology Review. The QTR 2015 features “emerging advanced energy technologies,” which “provide a rich set of options to address our energy challenges.” According to E&E News [subscription required], the QTR "identifies and drills down into the critical advanced technology, components and crosscutting science needed to support a modern, resilient, clean and secure energy system." Politico's Morning Energy reported on the QTR's focus on grid modernization, emphasizing "the need to embrace an electric grid already in the throes of increasing sophistication."
Regular readers of Advanced Energy Perspectives will notice that a lot of this information sounds pretty familiar. Advanced energy technologies and innovations are changing the way energy is generated, stored, and delivered, in the U.S. and worldwide. According to our Advanced Energy Now 2015 Market Report, advanced energy is a sector with annual revenues on par with the pharmaceutical industry. Download the report by clicking the button below.