Utility-Scale Solar Power
Utility-scale solar has been generating reliable, clean energy with a stable fuel price for more than two decades. Solar power plants can be developed in a way that balances environmental protection with our energy demands. By enacting federal policies to accelerate growth of utility-scale solar, we can create jobs nationwide and quickly diversify America’s energy portfolio. It’s also clear that the United States needs to do more to address the problem of climate change, and do so quickly. The solar industry is ready now to deploy clean energy, and developing utility-scale solar power is one of the fastest ways to reduce carbon pollution in the atmosphere.
A utility-scale solar power plant can be one of several solar technologies – concentrating solar power (CSP), photovoltaics (PV), or concentrating photovoltaics (CPV). What distinguishes utility-scale solar from distributed generation is project size and the fact that the electricity is sold to wholesale utility buyers, not end-use consumers. Utility-scale solar plants provide the benefit of fixed-priced electricity during peak demand periods when electricity from fossil fuels is the most expensive.
Many utility-scale solar designs can also include built-in storage capacity that provides power even when the sun is not shining, like traditional power plants. Utility customers have repeatedly endorsed investments in utility-scale solar plants. Today 528 MW of CSP are in operation across the US.
Large photovoltaic plants operate across the country as well, totaling 2,892 MW. And more solar power is on the way: more than 26,000 MW of utility-scale solar power projects are under development in the U.S., enough to power more than 4.3 million households.
By enacting federal policies to accelerate the growth of utility-scale solar, we can create jobs nationwide and quickly diversify America’s energy portfolio. Utility-scale solar will create jobs across the supply chain, from R&D and engineering to manufacturing and project finance to development and construction. This job creation and related economic activity is occurring not only in the Southwest, where most utility-scale solar power plants are located, but also in the heart of the Midwest’s manufacturing region. Currently more than 26,000 MW of utility-scale solar projects are under development.
More Facts About Utility-Scale Solar Power
Installation of 4 GW of CSP in the Southwest (comparable to eight coal-fired power plants) will result in 7.6 million tons of CO2 not being emitted into the atmosphere. Utility-scale solar power plants do not produce toxic emissions like mercury, smog-forming chemicals, particulate matter, or greenhouse gasses, such as carbon dioxide, NOX and volatile organic compounds (VOCs). Deploying 4 GW of solar power in California could save consumers between $60 million and $240 million per year in the cost of natural gas typically used to generate electricity.
In 1978, Congress passed the Public Utility Regulatory Policies Act (PURPA) to encourage fuel diversity via alternative energy sources and to introduce competition into the electric sector. As solar prices have fallen over the last decade, PURPA has become an attractive option for solar developers. Analysts predict that PURPA will be the top driver of utility-scale solar installations moving forward. To learn more about PURPA and its implications for solar, download our PURPA 101 Factsheet.
An unintended consequence of current federal acquisition law is the limited authority of the executive branch to enter into long-term clean energy contracts. For example, most federal agencies cannot enter into Power Purchase Agreements (PPA) with terms longer than 10 years. Unfortunately, this truncated timeline stymies the financial viability of many deserving projects that could reduce energy costs, meet clean energy requirements and create jobs. Congress has signaled support for long-term clean energy contracting authority for the entire executive branch, and it should do so now to create private-sector jobs, shift federal energy use away from foreign sources, hedge against rises in electricity rates and reduce federal electricity expenses. Click here to download SEIA's Factsheet on Long-Term Contracting Authority.