I finally got around to read the US Department of Energy report on utility-scale solar energy (https://emp.lbl.gov/sites/all/files/lbnl-1000917.pdf) published a couple of months ago. Here are my highlights:
- Installation trend is compelling. Installed capacity is now 30,000 MW – about 30 times more than 5 years ago.
- Installation costs are falling – by more than 50% since the 2007-2009 period, the lowest-priced projects being around $2/W (AC).
- Capacity factor is now improved to 27.5%. The main factors of this variation are, in order of importance: the strength of the solar resource at the project site; whether the array is mounted at a fixed tilt or on a tracking mechanism; the inverter loading ratio; and the type of PV modules used.
- Power purchase agreement prices have fallen. Utility scale solar PPA is now as low as $40/MWh. At these low levels – which appear to be robust, given the strong response to recent utility solicitations – PV compares favorably to just the fuel costs (i.e., ignoring fixed capital costs) of natural gas-fired generation, and can therefore potentially serve as a “fuel saver” alongside existing gas-fired generation (and can also provide a hedge against possible future increases in fuel prices).