Utility-Scale Solar Power
Utility-scale solar has been generating reliable, clean electricity 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 and climate goals. By enacting federal policies to accelerate growth of utility-scale solar, we can create jobs nationwide and quickly diversify America’s energy portfolio. Developing utility-scale solar power is one of the fastest ways to reduce carbon emissions and put the United States on a path to a clean energy future.
- There are more than 35,000 megawatts (MW) of utility-scale solar projects currently operating, with another 74,000 MW under development.
- Utility-scale solar can be paired with energy storage to manage evening energy ramps, provide backup power, and more.
- Of the utility-scale solar contracts signed in 2018, only 11% were under a mandated renewable portfolio standard, while more than 80% of projects were signed under voluntary procurement by a utility or corporate off-taker. (Source: U.S. Solar Market Insight Report)
A utility-scale solar power plant can utilize several solar technologies – primary photovoltaics (PV) or concentrating solar power (CSP). What distinguishes utility-scale solar from distributed generation is both 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 energy storage capacity that provides power when the sun is not shining, and increases grid reliability and resiliency. Utility customers have repeatedly endorsed investments in utility-scale solar plants.
Utility-scale solar creates jobs across the supply chain, from R&D and engineering to manufacturing and project finance to development and construction. There are more than 35,000 MW of utility-scale solar projects currently operating, with another 74,000 MW under development.
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. PURPA continues to be a significant 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.