While focused on key developments in 2016, this report explores trends in deployment and project design, installed project prices, operating costs, capacity factors, and power purchase agreement (PPA) prices among both utility-scale photovoltaic (PV) and concentrating solar thermal power (CSP) projects.

Berkeley Lab's "Utility-Scale Solar 2016" Finds Solar Power Increasingly Competitive

Contributed by | Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory

We are pleased to announce the release of Berkeley Lab's Utility-Scale Solar 2016, which presents analysis of empirical project-level data from the U.S. fleet of ground-mounted solar projects with capacities exceeding 5 MW-AC. While focused on key developments in 2016, this report explores trends in deployment and project design, installed project prices, operating costs, capacity factors, and power purchase agreement (PPA) prices among both utility-scale photovoltaic (PV) and concentrating solar thermal power (CSP) projects.

Key findings from this year's edition of this annual report series include:

  • The utility-scale PV market continues to expand geographically across the United States, with 29 states home to one or more utility-scale solar projects at the end of 2016.
  • Tracking is becoming more ubiquitous, with nearly 80% of all new utility-scale PV capacity added in 2016 employing single-axis tracking.  Even projects sited in lower-insolation regions and north of the 45th parallel have found single-axis tracking to be economical.
  • Median installed project prices declined to $2.2/W-AC (or $1.7/W-DC) in 2016, with the lowest 20th percentile priced at or below $2.0/W-AC (with a minimum of $1.5/W-AC).

  • Project-level capacity factors vary widely based on a number of factors, but have stabilized on an average fleetwide basis as the increasing use of tracking compensates for the build-out of lower-insolation sites.
  • PPA prices continued to decline, with a few dipping below $30/MWh (levelized, in 2016 dollars).  Except for several Hawaiian contracts (which have historically been priced at a significant premium to mainland PPAs), all of the PPAs in our sample that have been signed since the start of 2016 are priced at less than $50/MWh.

  • Though impressive in pace and scale, these falling PPA prices have been offset to some degree by declining wholesale market value within high-penetration markets like California, where a glut of mid-day solar generation has suppressed wholesale power prices (see the text box on page 35 of the full report).
  • Adding battery storage to shift a portion of this excess mid-day solar generation into evening hours is one way to partially restore the wholesale market value of solar. Several recent PPAs for PV plus battery storage in both Arizona and Hawaii suggest that this technology combination is becoming more cost-effective in high-penetration areas (see text box on page 37 of the full report).

 

The full Utility-Scale Solar 2016 report, along with an accompanying summary slide deck, a data file, and a number of interactive data visualizations, can be found at utilityscalesolar.lbl.gov.

In addition, a free webinar summarizing key findings from the report will be held on Wednesday, October 11 at 10 AM Pacific/1 PM Eastern.  Register for the webinar here.

For questions on the report, feel free to contact Mark Bolinger (MABolinger@lbl.gov) or Joachim Seel (JSeel@lbl.gov) at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory.

Finally, if you find this report-and the data it provides-to be useful, or if you regularly work with or are in search of solar data to aid you in your work, please note that the U.S. Department of Energy has recently issued a Request for Information concerning solar energy analysis and data needs.  Responses are due by October 6, 2017; click here for more information, and to respond.

We appreciate the funding support of the U.S. Department of Energy's SunShot Initiative in making this work possible.

 

 


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