In its latest analysis of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission’s (FERC) Energy Infrastructure Update and the US Energy Information Administration’s (EIA) Short-Term Energy Outlook, the non-profit SUN DAY Campaign has discovered that solar, wind and other renewable energy sources (including biomass, geothermal and hydropower) are now adding more than 2,250 MW of new generating capacity per month in the United States.
Specifically, utility–scale renewable facilities, which are defined by FERC as being larger than 1 MW in capacity, added 18,255-MW of new generating capacity in the first 10 months of 2021, for an average of 1,826 MW per month. Distributed resources, which are defined by the EIA as being smaller than 1 MW in capacity, have been forecast to grow by about 5,100 MW throughout all of 2021, for an average of about 425 MW per month.
In total, utility-scale renewables plus rooftop solar are now providing an average of more than 2,250 MW of new capacity per month. The 9,604 MW of new utility-scale solar reported by FERC for the first 10 months of 2021 is the most ever added in the United States in a 10-month period and is considerably higher than the 6,516 MW added during the same time period in 2020, or the 3,758 MW added in 2019.
Due in part to these impressive monthly additions, the SUN DAY Campaign says that renewables now provide roughly one-quarter of total US installed generating capacity, at 25.47%. This share is significantly greater than that of coal, which represents 18.77%, and more than three times that of nuclear power, which represents 8.32%.
“The breathtaking pace at which solar and wind are adding new capacity explains why renewable sources combined have eclipsed the generating capacity of nuclear power and surpassed that of coal, as well as whittled down the lead of natural gas,” said Ken Bossong, the executive director of the SUN DAY Campaign.
A year ago, the share of renewables was 23.31%. Five years ago, it was 18.58%, and a decade earlier it was 14.12%, according to the SUN DAY Campaign. It attributes this overall renewables expansion to a nearly threefold increase in wind’s share of installed generating capacity and a massive increase in solar’s share. Wind is now 10.54% of the nation’s generating capacity, while utility-scale solar sits at 5.21%, up from 0.15% in October 2011, not including distributed solar.
“Conservatively, over the next three years, renewables should expand from about a quarter of the nation’s generating capacity today to at least 30% and probably more,” said Bossong.
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Tim Sylvia was an editor at pv magazine USA. Tim covered project development, legal issues and renewable energy legislation, as well as contributed to the daily Morning Brief.
Utility scale solar developers
The Major Solar Projects List is a database of all ground-mounted solar projects, 1 MW and above, that are either operating, under construction or under development. The list is for informational purposes only, reflecting projects and completed milestones in the public domain. The information in the list was gathered from public announcements of solar projects in the form of company press releases, news releases, and, in some cases, conversations with individual developers. It is not a comprehensive list of all utility-scale projects under development. This list may be missing smaller projects that are not publicly announced.
Note: SEIA reports project capacity figures in AC units when available.
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SEIA makes major solar project data available to the public through the map below. SEIA members have exclusive access to the list as a sortable, searchable MS Excel file that is updated monthly. This version contains additional, valuable information that is not included in the map below, such as the owner, electricity purchaser, land type and expected online date. SEIA Members can access the searchable database here.
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- There are more than 6,300 major solar projects currently in the database, representing nearly 205 GWdc of capacity.
- There are more than 750 major energy storage projects currently in the database, representing more than 22,331 MWh of capacity.
- The list shows that there are more than 99 GWdc of major solar projects currently operating.
- There remains an enormous amount of capacity in the pipeline, with more than 105 GWdc of large-scale solar projects either under construction or under development.
See the locations of the major solar systems identified by this research on our interactive map.
Total Monthly Capacity, Operating and Under Construction/Development
SEIA does not guarantee that every identified project will be built. Like any other industry, market conditions may impact project economics and timelines. SEIA will remove a project if it is publicly announced that it has been canceled.
This Billion Dollar Solar Plant was an EPIC Failure
SEIA actively promotes public policy that minimizes regulatory uncertainty and encourages the accelerated deployment of utility-scale solar power.
How utility–scale solar power works
A utility-scale solar facility generates power from the sun and feeds it into the grid, supplying a utility with energy.
Almost every utility-scale solar facility has a power purchase agreement (PPA) with a utility. The agreement guarantees a market for the facility’s solar energy for a fixed amount of time. However, an emerging trend with large independent power producers (IPP) is occurring, that of having their own energy trading desk. This enables the IPP to sell electricity on the spot market at higher revenue than typical PPAs.
An increasing number of solar projects are using battery storage. Batteries are charged during daylight hours and supply the grid during peak usage hours. This is called ‘load-shifting’ and it results in additional revenue for a solar project.
The Inflation Reduction Act of 2022 introduced production tax credits to accelerate U.S. manufacturing of batteries, solar panels, and other clean energy equipment.
The cost and reliability of utility-scale solar PV (photovoltaic) have fallen dramatically in recent years and are now cheaper than coal in many parts of the world.
How does PV solar compare to other types of generation plants?
In 2020, the average annual electricity consumption for a U.S. residential utility customer was about 893 kWh per month.
The capacity of an electricity generating plant is measured by how many megawatts the facility can generate at peak.
The Dalles Dam on the Columbia River has a capacity of 1,878.3 megawatts (MW) of electricity production.
The Diablo Canyon Power Plant in San Luis Obispo County, California, is a nuclear facility with a capacity of 2,256 MW.
The Solar Star Project in Rosamond, California, has a capacity of 579 MW. 1.7 million solar panels stand on over 3,200 acres. This is currently the largest solar project in the United States, with enough energy to power 255,000 households.
How big can solar plants get?
The Bhadla Solar Park in India is the largest solar power plant in the world. It has an installed capacity of 2250 MW, equal to California’s Diablo Canyon nuclear plant. To support this electricity production level, the size of the facility is a whopping 14,000 acres.
Today, PV solar accounts for under 3% of utility-scale electrical generation in the United States. However, the U.S. Energy Information Administration expects the percentage to increase to 20% by 2050.
The first thing new grid-connected solar projects require is acreage — and a lot of it. Therefore, land developers have a role in this phase of a solar project.
This Google Maps view of Solar Star shows the overall footprint of the solar arrays.
Phases of Solar Project Construction
If you’ve flown over the U.S., you’ve seen how much land we have. So, the land itself is not a scarce resource, but time and money are required to purchase and assemble enough contiguous acreage.
In some cases, land previously used for crops with water requirements that can no longer be fulfilled is now available for lower water-use solar.
Regional developments. China
China will experience ‘peak energy’ in the 2030s, and from that point to 2050 its total energy consumption will fall by one quarter. However, the region’s electricity consumption will grow uninterruptedly, reaching some 18 PWh by mid-century. Almost 60% of that power will be PV generated – a result of China installing more PV than any other region.
While, China will lead the way with PV, the Indian Subcontinent will catch up rapidly. That region will have installed at least 50% of the capacity installed by their Chinese neighbours by 2050. As can be seen from the chart below, China and India will together possess 60% of global PV capacity by 2050, primarily due to their increased electricity consumption and large populations now and in the future. 1
Regional developments. Sub-Saharan Africa
Sub-Saharan Africa will see a unique dynamic unfold over the next two decades. During this time, off-grid PV installations will be the dominant solar segment. Electricity requirements in a large fraction of very poor households will remain limited and will be well-served by very inexpensive and small capacity off-grid installations, thus enabling access to clean and affordable energy – in line with the UN Sustainable Development Goal #7.
However, as standards of living continue to improve, the combination of higher household energy requirements, and changing relative costs, will be best served by the cost effectiveness of utility scale PV resources. By 2040, utility scale capacity will displace off-grid and take over the role as the dominant PV class in Sub-Saharan Africa, just as in all other regions.
Competing for capital
The sheer magnitude of the coming PV revolution is hard to comprehend. As stated, we estimate that between now and mid-century, the world will see a 65-fold increase in PV installations relative to 2016. We foresee no significant spatial or resource-related limitations to this spectacular growth.
But how will PV grow? In the eyes of many, distributed solar is the way of the future. However, DNV’s analysis finds that economies of scale will continue to outstrip distributed power cost advantages such that utility-scale power will provide between 40 and 60% of PV capacity in 2050.
So, the outlook is very bright for the growth of solar and supporting assets. However, an important challenge to consider is the ability of the solar industry to attract the substantial financial capital required to support this acceleration and growth across diverse markets and categories around the globe. There may be a limit to the speed and volume at which financial capital will be available to support this acceleration of development and deployment. We, as an industry, are actively working to improve the transparency and efficiency of financial transactions and due diligence, thereby lowering project and financial risk to investors.
Very substantial PV projects are going to be increasingly available as investment targets for the financial community in the decades to come. This runs counter to the belief that the renewables sector is fatally fragmented. In addition, the Rapid growth of large-scale projects will help to concentrate and accelerate the diffusion of the solar industry’s combined technical expertise – helping to move the energy industry towards the future we predict.
1 The regions referred to in this article as ‘China’ and ‘India’ denote Greater China (mainland China, including Hong Kong, Macau and Taiwan) and the Indian Subcontinent (India, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Nepal, Bhutan and the Maldives).