Solar High Rollers: Reasons to be cheerful

Cheer up. Here are 10 examples of how solar power can move us closer to achieving global net-zero goals.

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Faced with this week’s gloomy report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, a climate-conscious citizen could fall into existential despair — or lean harder into the battle to curb climate change.

I’d urge the latter, as there’s reason for optimism. The remarkable progress we’ve made in the last 10 years in solar power and other forms of renewable energy means that we can do far better in the coming decade. Effective energy and carbon policy could actually be enacted in the U.S. this year in a rare window of political opportunity.

While advanced technologies such as nuclear fusion, profitable fuel cells, long-duration energy storage and carbon capture merit deep investigation and resources, practicality dictates that we deploy and finance today’s solar, wind, lithium-ion batteries and transmission technology at an emergency pace.

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What we need to do is very, very big”

Jenny Chase and the BloombergNEF analysis crew calculate that we need massive numbers to achieve net-zero carbon emissions by midcentury.

Sound daunting? Let Chase reassure you.

Here are 10 examples of how things are changing.

Big solar in little China

China’s solar numbers are already in the right ballpark. China could install up to 65 gigawatts of solar this year, driven by a demand for distributed solar. Average solar deployment could reach 90 gigawatts annually in the years approaching 2025, according to projections from the China Photovoltaic Industry Association, as reported in PV Tech.

We’re going to need a bigger roof

Speaking of distributed solar, Chinese inverter builder Sungrow will supply equipment for a 120-megawatt rooftop solar project that could be the largest rooftop solar project in the world. Located in Jining in China’s Shandong province, the project will see solar modules installed across 43 rooftops.

We’re going to need a bigger module

The solar module wattage race continues: Risen Energy will supply 540-watt and 545-watt bifacial solar modules to renewable energy developer Doral for Mammoth North, a 480-megawatt solar energy project in Indiana, and the first phase of the 1.65-gigawatt Mammoth project being developed by Doral. The project is scheduled to be interconnected to the grid in 2023 under a power-purchase agreement with AEP Energy Partners.

The first 100 gigawatts is the hardest

Installed solar capacity in the U.S. has now topped 100 gigawatts, according to research from consultancy Wood Mackenzie and the Solar Energy Industries Association.

Graph: SEIA

Taking care of business

Solar and renewable power developers are raising capital and deploying solar at an unprecedented clip in the usual and not-so-usual states.

  • Intersect Power selected First Solar photovoltaic modules and Nextracker racking for the 415-megawatt Radian project in Texas and the 313-megawatt Athos III project in California. Signal Energy is the engineering and construction firm for these projects, which are set to be operational in 2022, part of a 1.7-gigawatt portfolio from this vendor team. 
  • Pine Gate Renewables108-megawatt Trent River Solar project in Pollocksville, North Carolina is now online. Duke Energy is building 10 solar projects in the Carolinas. 
  • Enel Green Power North America has acquired a 3.2-gigawatt portfolio of solar and solar-plus-storage projects from renewable developer Dakota Power Partners. The 24 development-stage projects in the Mid-Atlantic, Midwest and Western U.S. are planned to begin commercial operation in 2023
  • LS Power completed an acquisition from Public Service Enterprise Group (PSEG) of 25 solar power sites totaling 467 megawatts across 14 states and five regional transmission organizations.

Laissez les solar bon temps rouler

Some of the world’s biggest companies will be purchasing power from Louisiana’s biggest solar project.

McDonald’s and eBay intend to buy electricity from the 345-megawatt, $300 million Ventress Solar project, located 30 miles northwest of Baton Rouge in Pointe Coupee Parish. The solar farm is developed, owned and operated by Lightsource bp.

It brings the largest economic development project to the area in thirty years, with minimal impact on our infrastructure,” said Major Thibaut, Pointe Coupee Parish president, in a release.

With 191 megawatts installed, Louisiana ranks 38th for solar deployed in the U.S., according to SEIA. But despite those low rankings, proportionately Louisiana has more solar in low- and moderate-income neighborhoods than any other state, according to data from the National Renewable Energy Laboratory. Much of that is due to one company, PosiGen, whose solar and efficiency business focuses on communities in these income brackets.

Suzy queue

The California Independent System Operator, which manages California’s electricity grid, has almost 80 gigawatts of solar in its interconnection queue, according to reports. Last year, CAISO had 68 gigawatts of solar capacity in its queue. Not everything in the queue gets built — the completion rate usually amounts to about 30 percent — but nevertheless, it’s an encouraging total.

In fact, it’s not a gas

As Canary Media reported this week, California has just become the first state in the U.S. to pass building codes to make all-electric heating and appliances the default choice for newly built homes. It’s a win for advocates of limiting natural-gas use in California’s buildings — and a potential precedent for other states to follow.

In addition to the legislation on natural gas, California regulators voted to mandate that builders include solar power and battery storage in commercial buildings such as grocery stores, high-rise multifamily buildings, offices, financial institutions, retail stores, schools, warehouses, auditoriums, convention centers, hotels, motels, medical offices, restaurants and theaters.

The commercial solar mandate would add 280 megawatts of solar annually, according to estimates from the California Energy Commission. The commission enacted a residential solar mandate last year.

U.S. solar blues 

Chinese companies currently dominate the solar industry and supply chain.

As noted in our first Solar High Roller column, the Solar Energy Manufacturing for America Act, sponsored by U.S. Senator Jon Ossoff of Georgia (D), would create a tax credit for domestic solar production. A number of U.S. solar manufacturing projects would be helped by the tax credit.

  • Heliene’s new facility in Riviera Beach, Florida increases the company’s North American manufacturing capacity by 100 megawatts. The plant will build high-efficiency heterojunction solar modules. 
  • First Solar, the largest solar manufacturer in the U.S., is spending nearly $700 million to expand its manufacturing operations in Ohio by 3 gigawatts. 
  • Hanwha Q Cells’ solar panel plant in Dalton, Georgia is the largest solar manufacturing facility in the Western Hemisphere and stands to gain a tax credit amounting to at least 7 cents per watt if the bill passes. 

Solar from the land down under

Australia has more than 370 large-scale solar assets, which cumulatively amount to 8.4 gigawatts of capacity at or beyond financial close, according to Rystad. In May 2021, large-scale solar photovoltaic generation exceeded gas generation for the first time. BeyondtheBurn is a photographic showcase of some of the solar farms powering Australia.

(Lead image courtesy of Swinerton)

Eric Wesoff is the editorial director at Canary Media.