Despite the fallout after the bankruptcy of manufacturing giant Solyndra, figures indicate the support for utility scale PV plants in the United States remains unaffected
Two weeks ago the American solar company Solyndra declared bankruptcy, with the subsequent FBI investigation into their misuse of federal loans clearly damaging the image of photovoltaic manufacturing in the USA. However, despite the immediate publicity surrounding this scandal it is hard to agree that the bankruptcy of Solyndra will overshadow the growing utility-scale PV market in the United States. Figures announced this week show that the non-residential project pipeline went from a stagnant 17GW two months ago to an overflowing 24GW by September 2011, indicating that the bankruptcy of Solyndra is not symptomatic of the entire solar industry.
The federal loan provided for Solyndra represented only 1.4% of the entire loan guarantee program. Furthermore the recent approval for First Solar to receive a conditional commitment of $967 million for its $1.7 billion Agua Caliente project, with further guarantees looking likely for both the 550MW Topaz Solar Farm and the 210MW AV Solar Ranch, indicates that the governments fervent commitment to supporting photovoltaics remains intact. Consequently, it is not so much the failure of one solar manufacturer that will impact the utility scale PV market over the coming months, but more decisions made by the DOE on other project applications that must receive guarantees under Section 1705 of the loan program ahead of the 30 September deadline, as well as the success of these projects.
Experts at PV-Insider believe that if companies continue to receive this support from the US government it is crucial that developers and EPC groups alike play their part in driving down costs to prove the commercial viability of large-scale plants. This will be addressed this November in San Jose, at the 2nd Utility Scale PV Plant Optimization Summit, where leading PV companies and US based utilities are set to discuss the immediate roadblocks faced in developing large-scale PV plants.
Event organizer Jack Ahearne said that "the stabilization of module prices has led experts to focus their attention beyond the module towards achieving economic gains in the design, engineering and operational strategies deployed for large-scale applications… It is therefore crucial that LCOE continues to decline if project activity and support is to continue in the United States both now and in years to come". Some of the recent updates to the event line-up include the participation of SunPower, First Solar, Iberdrola Renewables and Juwi Solar who will share their experience in how optimal performance has been achieved in large-scale PV plants. As well as leading US utilities such as San Francisco Public Utilities Commission, Sacramento Municipal Utility District, California Public Utilities Commission and Salt River Project who will provide their expertise on how to overcome sitting and transmission challenges to reduce costs in utility scale plants.
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