Mainstream utility generation ‘trending’ in the PV sector

Utility-scale applications have doubled in a year to 12GW, while growth in other parts of the PV sector has slowed. Philip Wolfe, whose book on solar power stations was published recently, explains why these applications will continue to march on.

Sarnia Solar Park in Ontaria, Canada. Courtesy: First Solar

Solar power has been the fastest growing source of electricity generation over the last decade. This advance was stimulated initially by strong and coherent incentives, particularly Feed-in Tariffs in Germany and other parts of Europe. But even as these measures have recently faced turmoil, the market has continued to advance, stimulated by costs which have halved in the last year. As grid parity approaches, utility-scale applications are attracting mainstream investment from banks, pension funds and even Warren Buffett.

Of course much of PV’s early progress was in rooftop and decentralised systems where photovoltaics offers unique advantages. However, solar power has also proved its ability to deliver electricity at the utility scale; and my book addresses that sector of the market, focusing mainly on installations of 10MW and above. Utility-scale applications represented over 20% of the PV market in 2012, and this is likely to be substantially higher again in 2013. In just six years, global capacity of these large-scale solar installations has risen to over 12GW, maybe three times the capacity of offshore wind, for example.

The utility-scale market was at first stimulated by feed-in tariffs, particularly in Germany and Spain. Until 2010 Europe held over 70% of the world market, with much of the balance in North America. The last two years, however, have seen significant growth under the Clean Development Mechanism, particularly from China and India. Europe’s share fell below 40% in 2012, and will be much lower this year, as China and the USA race ahead.

The largest individual solar park now operating is the Agua Caliente Solar Project in South West Arizona, partly owned by Warren Buffett’s MidAmerican Energy, which feeds power into Southern California. So far over 250MW are complete and connected, but the plant is still being built and will have an eventual capacity over 300MW. Plants up to 600MW planned capacity have also started construction in California.

In some places solar power stations are built in clusters, such as the Charanka Solar Park in India with 17 separate plants co-located on the same site. The largest such cluster is in the desert near Golmud, China with over 500MW of combined capacity, including one plant of 200MW. Europe’s largest installation at Neuhardenberg in Brandenburg Germany is also a cluster of 11 solar power plants.

"Solar Photovoltaic Projects in the Mainstream Power Market" by Philip Wolfe

Solar photovoltaic projects in the mainstream energy market was published by Routledge in October and profiles of some landmark projects including one of the ½ gigawatt power stations now being installed in California.

The first part of the book evaluates the project development process from site selection through design, construction and commissioning to operations and maintenance. While touching on the relevant technological considerations, the book is aimed more at project developers, financiers, legislators and professionals, rather than engineers and scientists.

The second part of the book looks at the commercial, operational, technical and legislative risks associated with project development. It also describes the transition from the historical incentive-based era, through grid parity, to solar power’s participation in the unsubsidised competitive market.

Because the sector continues developing so fast, the book is linked to an online resource at, where about 1,000 solar power stations are shown on frequently updated maps. The website also assesses statistics on sunlight levels, electricity prices and carbon intensity to show where large-scale PV is most applicable.


Milk the Sun Photovoltaic Projects: Highlights Week 9

After this week’s launch of our French version of our online marketplace, we are able to present our latest project highlights with a focus on the French market.

Milk the Sun sends a weekly newsletter with the highlights of each week. Register free of charge to get access to all our international projects.

369.00 kWp operational system in France
100.00 kWp turnkey project in Languedoc-Roussillon, France
90.00 kWp turnkey project in Languedoc-Roussillon, France
75.00 kWp turnkey project in Languedoc-Roussillon, France
70.00 kWp turnkey project in Languedoc-Roussillon, France
33.00 kWp turnkey project in Languedoc-Roussillon, France

2,9 MWp operational system in Brandenburg
1,3 MWp operational system in Saxony-Anhalt
316.00 kWp turnkey project in Bavaria

1,000.00 m² roof area for pv in Berlin

Other highlights
2 MWp turnkey project in Georgia, USA
1 MWp project rights in Poland

Are you interested in investments in photovoltaic? Register for free on to get access to all our projects.

Interested in leasing your roof or land? Do you own PV project rights or operational systems that you want to sell?

With Milk the Sun all system, roof and land owners, as well as project rights holders, can list their projects free of charge and non-exclusively to a wide range of investors.

For the first time a free online calculator determining current PV installation sales values is available, supporting owners selling operational photovoltaic plants.

Have a nice weekend and regards,

Your Milk the Sun Team

Fox News explains the world: Germany sunnier than the USA

That supporters of both conventional and renewable energies like to use heavily doctored numbers and one-sided arguments to dismiss each other’s claims is nothing new. However, the conservative leaning TV channel Fox News has recently shared their explanation as to why the establishment of photovoltaic plants has not taken off to the same extent in the USA as in Germany. Newsflash: overall solar irradiance is to blame.

Millions of viewers watched as Shibani Joshi, billed as a Fox Business Network Expert, explained in front of running cameras that: “They’re a smaller country, and they’ve got lots of sun. Right? They’ve got a lot more sun than we do.” Smaller country = more sun. “In California, it’s a great solution, but here on the East Coast, it’s just not going to work”.

Every layman, however, can see from current irradiance maps the reality behind the statements of this “Expert”. For some perspective, here is a map from the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, working under the American Dept. of Energy.

Photovoltaik-Anlagen in Deutschland sind rentabel, die USA hat deutlich mehr Sonneneinstrahlung

Illustration courtesy of the National Renewable Energy Laboratory

Irradiance in comparison: The USA is notedly sunnier than Germany. Illustration courtesy of the National Renewable Energy Laboratory.

Despite the clearly better solar conditions in the USA, Germany brought more PV capacity online in the last year alone than the USA has installed to date (7.6GW installed in 2012 in Germany, 6.9GW installed capacity in the USA total).

Check out the original footage here:



Photovoltaic Plants: Higher Soft-Costs in the USA

Why are photovoltaic installations more expensive in the USA than in Germany? This was the question posed in a recent study by Lawrence Berkley National Laboratory. Results show that while module costs are nearly equal, the significant price difference between the two countries comes through higher installation and soft-costs present in the USA. Germans pay approximately $1.20/installed watt, whereas their American counterparts pay much more, to the tune of $4.36/installed watt. That is more than three times as much.

This cost difference cannot be ascribed solely to the maturity of the German market. According to LBNL, more than half of the additional costs are due to other factors. For example, marketing costs, while 7cents/watt in Germany, are ten times as much in the US; a whopping 70cents/watt. Permitting and interconnection fees also represent major cost hurdles for Americans, coming in at 20cents as opposed to 3cents in Germany.

The results of this LNBL study place equal importance on labor intensive permitting processes and higher taxes for the permits themselves. Higher labor costs, which entail higher sales-tax and administration fees, are also price drivers.

Inverters cost more in the USA than Germany. Nevertheless, after accounting for this increased hard-cost there is still a $1.30/watt price differential between the two markets. One speculation is that American solar firms demand higher profit margins.

The US Dept. of Energy is aware of this problem, and they partly answer it via the SunShot Initiative, a US Dept. of Commerce program with the objective of reducing these expenditures. A $10 million prize is promised to the first company to bring these costs under $1/watt, and a further $12 million is available for the easing of various specific soft costs. In December, an additional $21 million will be made available for the development of “Plug-and-Play” systems.


Solar Energy in Latin America: Chile on the move

Latin America and the Caribbean represent two key regions for the further growth of renewable energies. Over the last year we have seen over 100MW installed between these two regions. This year predictions lie in the 450MW range. A project pipeline with a capacity of over 8GW, through utility scale projects alone, was announced last year, and more than 6 of those GW are in Chile. According to GTM research, by 2017 we could be seeing yearly installation numbers above 5.7GW.

Milk the Sun berichtet über den Photovoltaik-Markt in Lateinamerika©Fernando Alonso Herrero

Despite the high number of project announcements, to date only a few grid-tied projects have been completed. The industry’s focus is still primarily on behind-the-meter projects. However, developers and manufacturers alike are seeing the opportunity to establish themselves as pioneers in these high-growth markets. The few solar companies with LATAM branches will likely see competition in the near future from other established energy-sector players, many of whom are stepping up their involved in the PV market. Key take-away from early market entrants: A local connection often plays a far greater role than deeper experience in solar development.



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