Utility-scale solar generation gets boost from dropping photovoltaic costs
This June, utility-scale solar generators output 31 times more electricity than they did a decade ago, according to new research from the U.S. Energy Information Administration.
While there was recent buzz surrounding the proliferation of residential solar panels, utility-scale solar projects (those with a capacity of 1 megawatt or greater) have quietly grown by about 36 percent over the past year. This June, utility-scale generation hit a new monthly high, as power plants generated 2,765 gigawatt hours of energy from the sun.
Much like residential solar panels, utility-scale solar systems have benefited from the falling cost of photovoltaic solar panels. Until recently, changes in photovoltaic (PV) technology wouldn’t have made much of a difference to larger plants. Between 2005 and 2010, about 85 percent of utilities-scale solar generation came from solar thermal facilities, not photovoltaic panels. Then in 2011, photovoltaic generation began to grow at a higher rate than thermal generation, and by 2014 PV generation accounted for almost 87 percent of the total solar generation going into the grid.
This recent explosive growth isn’t poised to slow down, either, as more than 7 gigawatts of PV projects are scheduled to go online around the nation next year.
Amidst such rapid growth as a nation, one state stands out. In June, plants in California were responsible for providing a majority of all energy supplied to the grid. Arizona (13.4 percent), North Carolina (6.7 percent), Nevada (6.4 percent) and New Jersey (3.3 percent) followed California as the largest solar contributors to the grid, but none came close to the Golden State’s whopping 56.6 percent. In March, California became the first state to generate 5 percent of its electricity from utility-scale solar power plants.
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