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”.
Is it possible for utilities to provide 100% renewable energy?
Xcel Energy is an electric utility based in Minneapolis, Minnesota. It serves more than 3.3 million electric customers throughout Colorado, Michigan, Minnesota, New Mexico, North Dakota, South Dakota, Texas, and Wisconsin. Xcel has a goal of delivering 100% carbon free electricity by the year 2050. As of 2018, their delivery was 38% carbon free, and by 2030, Xcel hopes to deliver 80% carbon free electricity before reaching their ultimate goal of 100% carbon free by 2050.
The sun is rising on the cannabis industry in the United States. Cannabis is now fully legal in ten states: Maine, Vermont, Massachusetts, Michigan, Washington, Oregon, California, Nevada, Colorado, Alaska, and the District of Columbia. With widespread legalization, the cannabis industry is growing rapidly. Despite its speedy growth, there are two major roadblocks that the cannabis industry faces. Energy costs and limited backing from traditional banks hinder the industry's further expansion.
National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) researchers estimate that installing floating solar photovoltaics on the more than 24,000 man-made U.S. reservoirs could generate about 10 percent of the nation’s annual electricity production. Their findings, published in the journal Environmental Science & Technology, reveal for the first time the potential for floating PV to produce electricity in the United States.
While the United States was the first to demonstrate floating PV panels—with the first installation occurring 10 years ago on pontoons on an irrigation pond in Napa Valley, California—the idea has not received widespread national acceptance. The U.S. focus has primarily been on installing large-scale, ground-mounted solar panels, and only had seven floating PV sites as of December 2017. Floating PV sites are being deployed more overseas, however, with more than 100 sites as of the end of last year. Japan, for example, is home to 56 of the 70 largest floating PV installations.
The 50% by 2030 mandate would include a provision that utilities source at least 14.5% of their power from solar, the highest portion of any policy to date. But to do that it has to get through both the Maryland House and Governor Hogan.
At Solar Power Northeast representatives from Cypress Creek, Stem and Kearsage Energy discussed the possibilities and limitations of bringing big solar to New York and New England.
“500 MW might actually cover all of Rhode Island,” joked Paul Raducha, senior developer for Kearsage energy, but there’s real sentiment behind his quip. While states like California, Nevada and Arizona have seen utility-scale development at mind boggling scales, there are few massive solar plants yet on the East Coast north of Virginia.
Now let’s be honest, nobody is asking for or realistically expecting a multitude of 100 or more MW plants in New England and New York. So what is there to expect?
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.