The first winter storm of the season is wrapping up here in New England. As we gather our shovels, ice scrapers, salt, and other winter gear out of the closet, we embark on another journey and battle against mother nature. Skiers and snowboarders rejoice as the fresh snow evokes dreams of carving down the mountain. Others are less enthusiastic about having to deal with another 4-5 months of scraping, shoveling and shivering.
Murray Energy, the largest privately held coal company in the United States recently filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy. This continues to be a trend for coal companies over the last couple of years. As renewables like solar and wind become more cost effective, they are beginning to move coal fired power plants out of the picture. Unfortunately, the effects of this bankruptcy will harm only the most vulnerable. It will lead to workers and coal miners getting the short end of the stick, and top executives at Murray Energy getting off scot-free. “It (Murray Energy) will seek to be relieved of its obligations to retirees, their dependents and widows. We have seen this sad act too many times before.” (Source)
This past week, 20,000 renewable energy professionals flocked to Salt Lake City for Solar Power International and North America Smart Energy Week. Nestled in the spectacular Wasatch mountains, Salt Lake City was the perfect host for the conference. The people of the city were warm and friendly, and the views were breathtaking.
Last week, I had a sit down with Andrew Breiter-Wu, President of Breiter Planet Properties. I asked him a few questions about himself and the company, and got to know more about his story. As we walked through the Prudential building in Boston, looking for a place to sit down and talk, Andrew noted: “I love this area, because there is always something going on. It’s great to be in the action.” In the solar world, Andrew is definitely “In the action”.
The Big Apple? More like The Big Array! New York City is now home to the biggest array of solar panels on top of an apartment complex in the United States. This solar array sits proudly atop Stuyvesant Town-Peter Cooper Village in Manhattan with over 9,671 solar panels spanning 22 acres of roof space. Nearly doubling the solar capacity in Manhattan, this project adds 3.9 Megawatts of power. Installing this solar array will have the same effect as removing nearly 12,000 cars off the road, and reducing carbon emissions by 62,472 tons!
On March 14th and 15th, the Northeast Sustainable Energy Association held the BuildingEnergy Boston Conference. Among the attendees were building professionals, educators, homeowners, students, and energy & environment professionals. One of the presentations given at BuildingEnergy Boston was titled Solar Access for the Underserved. Three different speakers addressed the problem of accessibility of solar, and provided specific solutions to this problem.
On a brisk Saturday morning, residents from across Southeastern Massachusetts came together along the shoreline of the Mt. Hope Bay to watch the demolition of the two Brayton Point cooling towers.
Developers have applied to build 139 GWac of large-scale solar projects in the territory of six grid operators – around five times what is currently online across the country – and that figure doesn’t even cover the entire United States. By any metric, we are looking at an unprecedented boom in solar development over the next five years.
Image: NREL - Hit me with your Sunshot
Some of it is the pending drop-down of the Investment Tax Credit from the end of 2019 through the end of 2023. Some of it is a series of decisions by states, cities and corporations to decarbonize their electricity supply, and to use solar as a main means of doing this. And some of it is the continual decline in PV system prices, which makes large-scale solar the cheapest form of new generation in much of the United States.
But whatever the cause, there is an unprecedented, massive volume of solar projects that is underway in the United States. Research conducted by pv magazine USA has uncovered more than 139 GWac of solar projects which have applied for interconnection with six grid operators (CAISO, NYISO, ISO-NE, MISO, PJM, ERCOT) by the end of December 2018, spanning the Northeast, Midwest, California and Texas.
For perspective, Wood Mackenzie estimates that there was only 34 GWdc of large-scale solar online at the end in the third quarter of 2018. When you convert that figure to AC power, it means that the new capacity being considered is around five times as large.
There are other reports looking at upcoming capacity, and they do vary greatly – which ought remind us all that much of what is in a queue won’t move forward. ISO New England estimates that 70% of the projects in its queue never see the light of day.
However, more than 15 GWac of solar projects in these six grids either already hold interconnection agreements, or have entered the engineering and procurement phase.* The largest portion of these is in California, but there are also more than 4 GWac of projects in Texas that hold interconnection agreements.
Our investigation showed solar project development going truly national. In fact, the California Independent System Operator (CAISO) grid has a smaller volume of solar projects in its interconnection queue than the Midcontinent System Operator (MISO), Electricity Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT) or PJM Interconnection, each of which have more than 32 GWac of solar projects in their queue. Unlike California, the large majority of project volume in all three has been proposed in 2017 and 2018 and these regions had all seen limited large-scale solar market development until a few years ago.
Even more to come
It is important to remember that these grids don’t cover the entire United States, and as such this 139 GWac does not include projects in the majority of the South, Mountain West, Pacific Northwest and Plains States. And we aren’t seeing these massive projects only in databases, either. As documented in pv magazine USA’s year-end coverage, we have found large solar projects either planned or under construction in 17 states that have not had substantial solar markets to date.
The signals of a boom to come in the U.S. solar market is reinforced by other data sources. The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission’s (FERC) monthly Energy Infrastructure Update(located under Energy Infrastructure tab) gives estimates of future capacity, and the latest report shows 63 GWac of proposed solar project additions before the end of 2021.
A quarterly report by Stephanie Tsao and Ellen Meyers of S&P Global Market Intelligenceestimates that the U.S. utility scale solar project pipeline through 2022 has expanded to 33.9 GWac.
In these estimates by S&P, grid operators reports and FERC, we are only talking about large utility-scale projects. These numbers do not include smaller systems such as rooftop solar either on the homes or businesses of utility customers. Data from other projections suggest that another 4-5 GWdc is coming from residential and commercial solar combined. Adding that volume to the S&P projections with a DC:AC ratio of 1.25:1 applied, suggests that the United States might build 18 GWdc of solar power in 2019, and just over 19 GWdc in 2020.
Energy storage boom
The six grid operator queues we investigated also showed more than 16 GW of battery projects which have filed for interconnection. And this number should not be too surprising to anyone who is watching the meteoric growth of energy storage.
Per the US Energy Storage Monitor, from Wood Mackenzie Renewables & Power along with the Energy Storage Association (ESA), total energy storage deployed expanded by 60% in terms of energy and 300% on a power basis in the third quarter of 2018 versus the prior year. Going out mostly until 2023, the report noted that the front of the meter pipeline expanded to approximately 33 GW of power.
The next five years are going to be truly massive for solar and energy storage. Hold on to your seats.
*Editor’s note: PJM Interconnection did not have a list of projects with interconnection agreements, but did list projects which had entered the engineering & procurement stage of development.