The nation now exceeds 8.5 GW of cumulative installed solar electric capacity, of which 7.9 GW is PV. Solar nearly made up half (48 percent) of all new electric capacity installed in the U.S in 1Q13. Meanwhile in an effort to revive the stalled build at the Bellefonte nuclear power plant, the Tennessee Valley Authority is trimming the project’s budget by 64 percent and cutting 530 jobs at the facility, The budget for Bellefonte is being cut from $182 million to $66 million. According to the AP, the massive cutbacks call the entire future of the project into question.
The cutbacks come on top of a spate of bad news for the nuclear industry, culminating in the announcement last week that Southern California Edison was permanently closing the long-troubled San Onofre nuclear plant.
U.S. solar energy installations totaled 723 megawatts (MW) from January through March, a 33 percent increase from a year ago and the solar sector’s best-ever first-quarter performance. Residential solar installations rose 53 percent year-on-year to 164 MW, with the utility segment more than doubling to 318 MW. Third-party-owned solar residential systems made up two-thirds of all residential PV installations in California (exceeding non-residential for the first time), and 86 percent of them in Arizona. Residential solar has managed to expand, at times well into double-digits, for 12 of the past 13 quarters. The only top-tier residential market to shrink in 1Q13 was Arizona, which fell 9%. Average PV system costs were $3.37/W, a 24 percent drop over the past year, though that’s about 10 percent higher than the previous quarter because of fewer utility-scale projects coming online. Residential systems fell about 16 percent Y/Y (2 percent Q/Q) to $4.93/W, non-residential also fell 16 percent Y/Y (8 percent Q/Q) to $3.92/W, and utility system prices declined 26 percent Y/Y but only 6 percent Q/Q to $1.12/W. Note that there’s an especially wide range of installed PV prices by state, anywhere between $3-8/W.
Risks to distributed generation of solar PV are threefold, say SEIA and GTM Research:
Net metering revisited. As distributed generation expands, utilities are seeking to revise, cap, and even remove net metering. This will take different forms in different regions — and varying degrees of resistance or acceptance — but it will have major implications everywhere.
Utility electricity rate structures. How utilities set up their tariff structures, incorporating time-of-use pricing and fixed or volumetric charges, will have a significant impact on the economics of solar energy systems. “While net metering is currently a more public battleground, we anticipate that rate structures will soon follow behind,” they say in the report.
Who’s going to pay for it? Distributed generation could require more than $48 billion of investments from now through 2017 — far exceeding what’s been provided to date. There will be a need for new sources of capital, new financing models (think REITs and MLPs, and crowdfunding and community solar), and new investors in existing structures (tax equity). “Project finance could serve as a significant bottleneck to growth over the next four years,” they write.