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Title: Is $50/MWh solar for real? Falling project prices and rising capacity factors drive utility-scale PV toward economic competitiveness

Abstract

Recently announced low-priced power purchase agreements (PPAs) for US utility-scale photovoltaic (PV) projects suggest $50/MWh solar might be viable under certain conditions. To explore this possibility, this paper draws on an increasing wealth of empirical data to analyze trends in three of the most important PPA price drivers: upfront installed project prices, operations, and maintenance (O&M) costs, and capacity factors. Average installed prices among a sample of utility-scale PV projects declined by more than one third (from 5.8/W AC to 3.7/WAC) from the 2007–2009 period through 2013, even as costlier systems with crystalline-silicon modules, sun tracking, and higher inverter loading ratios (ILRs) have constituted an increasing proportion of total utility-scale PV capacity (all values shown here are in 2013 dollars). Actual and projected O&M costs from a very small sample of projects appear to range from $20–$40/kW AC-year. Furthermore, the average net capacity factor is 30% for projects installed in 2012, up from 24% for projects installed in 2010, owing to better solar resources, higher ILRs, and greater use of tracking among the more recent projects. Based on these trends, a pro-forma financial model suggests that $50/MWh utility-scale PV is achievable using a combination of aggressive-but-achievable technical and financial inputmore » parameters (including receipt of the 30% federal investment tax credit). Although the US utility-scale PV market is still young, the rapid progress in the key metrics documented in this paper has made PV a viable competitor against other utility-scale renewable generators, and even conventional peaking generators, in certain regions of the country.« less

Authors:
 [1];  [1];  [2]
  1. Lawrence Berkeley National Lab. (LBNL), Berkeley, CA (United States)
  2. Independent Consultant, Golden CO (United States)
Publication Date:
Research Org.:
Lawrence Berkeley National Lab. (LBNL), Berkeley, CA (United States)
Sponsoring Org.:
Environmental Energy Technologies Division; USDOE
OSTI Identifier:
1375195
Alternate Identifier(s):
OSTI ID: 1401390
Report Number(s):
LBNL-183129
Journal ID: ISSN 1062-7995; ir:183129
Grant/Contract Number:  
AC02-05CH11231
Resource Type:
Journal Article: Accepted Manuscript
Journal Name:
Progress in Photovoltaics
Additional Journal Information:
Journal Volume: 23; Journal Issue: 12; Journal ID: ISSN 1062-7995
Publisher:
Wiley
Country of Publication:
United States
Language:
English
Subject:
14 SOLAR ENERGY; utility-scale; capacity factor; power purchase agreement; price trends; O&M; economic competitiveness

Citation Formats

Bolinger, Mark, Weaver, Samantha, and Zuboy, Jarett. Is $50/MWh solar for real? Falling project prices and rising capacity factors drive utility-scale PV toward economic competitiveness. United States: N. p., 2015. Web. doi:10.1002/pip.2630.
Bolinger, Mark, Weaver, Samantha, & Zuboy, Jarett. Is $50/MWh solar for real? Falling project prices and rising capacity factors drive utility-scale PV toward economic competitiveness. United States. https://doi.org/10.1002/pip.2630
Bolinger, Mark, Weaver, Samantha, and Zuboy, Jarett. Fri . "Is $50/MWh solar for real? Falling project prices and rising capacity factors drive utility-scale PV toward economic competitiveness". United States. https://doi.org/10.1002/pip.2630. https://www.osti.gov/servlets/purl/1375195.
@article{osti_1375195,
title = {Is $50/MWh solar for real? Falling project prices and rising capacity factors drive utility-scale PV toward economic competitiveness},
author = {Bolinger, Mark and Weaver, Samantha and Zuboy, Jarett},
abstractNote = {Recently announced low-priced power purchase agreements (PPAs) for US utility-scale photovoltaic (PV) projects suggest $50/MWh solar might be viable under certain conditions. To explore this possibility, this paper draws on an increasing wealth of empirical data to analyze trends in three of the most important PPA price drivers: upfront installed project prices, operations, and maintenance (O&M) costs, and capacity factors. Average installed prices among a sample of utility-scale PV projects declined by more than one third (from 5.8/WAC to 3.7/WAC) from the 2007–2009 period through 2013, even as costlier systems with crystalline-silicon modules, sun tracking, and higher inverter loading ratios (ILRs) have constituted an increasing proportion of total utility-scale PV capacity (all values shown here are in 2013 dollars). Actual and projected O&M costs from a very small sample of projects appear to range from $20–$40/kWAC-year. Furthermore, the average net capacity factor is 30% for projects installed in 2012, up from 24% for projects installed in 2010, owing to better solar resources, higher ILRs, and greater use of tracking among the more recent projects. Based on these trends, a pro-forma financial model suggests that $50/MWh utility-scale PV is achievable using a combination of aggressive-but-achievable technical and financial input parameters (including receipt of the 30% federal investment tax credit). Although the US utility-scale PV market is still young, the rapid progress in the key metrics documented in this paper has made PV a viable competitor against other utility-scale renewable generators, and even conventional peaking generators, in certain regions of the country.},
doi = {10.1002/pip.2630},
url = {https://www.osti.gov/biblio/1375195}, journal = {Progress in Photovoltaics},
issn = {1062-7995},
number = 12,
volume = 23,
place = {United States},
year = {2015},
month = {5}
}

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Works referenced in this record:

Tracking US photovoltaic system prices 1998-2012: a rapidly changing market: Tracking US photovoltaic system prices 1998-2012
journal, March 2014

  • Barbose, Galen; Darghouth, Naïm Richard; Weaver, Samantha
  • Progress in Photovoltaics: Research and Applications, Vol. 23, Issue 6
  • https://doi.org/10.1002/pip.2482

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