U.S. installed highest capacity of utility-scale solar over past year
According to the latest release from DOE research affiliate Berkeley Lab, it's often cheaper to build and run solar than to buy gas for an existing plant.
Berkeley Lab’s “Utility-Scale Solar, 2022 Edition” presents analysis of empirical plant-level data from the U.S. fleet of ground-mounted photovoltaic (PV), PV+battery, and concentrating solar-thermal power (CSP) plants with capacities exceeding 5 MWAC. While focused on key developments in 2021, this report explores trends in deployment, technology, capital and operating costs, capacity factors, the levelized cost of solar energy (LCOE), power purchase agreement (PPA) prices, and wholesale market value.
Key findings from this year’s report include:
A record of nearly 12.5 GWAC of new utility-scale PV capacity came online in 2021, bringing cumulative installed capacity to more than 51.3 GWAC across 44 states.
90% of all new utility-scale PV capacity added in 2021 uses single-axis tracking.
Median installed project costs declined to $1.35/WAC (or $1.02/WDC) in 2021.
Project-level capacity factors vary widely, from 9% to 35% (on an AC basis), with a sample median of 24%. The report explores drivers of this variation.
Utility-scale PV’s LCOE fell to $33/MWh in 2021 ($27/MWh if factoring in the federal investment tax credit, or ITC).
PPA prices have largely followed the decline in solar’s LCOE over time, but have recently stagnated and even moved slightly higher. Prices from a sample of recent contracts average around $20/MWh (levelized) in the West and $30-40/MWh elsewhere in the continental US.
In 2021, solar’s average market value (defined in the report to include only energy and capacity value) rose by 55% to $47/MWh and exceeded average wholesale prices in 13 of the 17 balancing authorities analyzed.
Adding battery storage is one way to increase the value of solar. Our public data file tracks metadata and PPA prices from 67 PV+battery hybrid projects that are already online or that have secured offtake arrangements.
At the end of 2021, there were at least 674 GW of utility-scale solar power capacity within the interconnection queues across the nation, 284 GW of which include batteries.