GTM Research just launched our U.S. Utility PV Market Tracker, a real-time source of information on one of the fastest-growing PV market segments in the world. The tracker includes, among other things, a database of every operating and contracted utility PV project in the country, as well as most earlier-stage projects (a total of 391 projects as of today). It also includes market analysis and ongoing news flow.

To supplement the launch of the Tracker, here is a numbers-based snapshot of where the market stands today:

Operating utility PV capacity: 419 MW

(Note: capacity numbers in this article are reported in DC – for projects reported only in AC, we assume an 87% derate)

There are, cumulatively, 419 MW operating on the utility side of the meter in the U.S. (note that we define “utility” according to side of the meter and power purchaser, not by project size). This number will be well eclipsed by Germany’s installations in the month of May alone. In other words, the market remains young, and, despite the enormous interest in the market, very few projects of any scale have come online.

Total contracted capacity: 8.6 GW

Compared to the paltry 419 MW operating, the pipeline is enormous. There are currently 8.6 GW of projects with PPAs in place, most of which have expected completion dates of 2014 at the latest. It is therefore easy to see why all eyes in the global PV industry are on the U.S. utility market.

Total capacity with an expected completion date of 2011: 1,045 MW

The U.S. installed 887 MW of PV across market segments in 2010; in 2011, expected utility project completions alone will exceed 1,000 MW. To be sure, many of these projects will never be completed, let alone begin operation in 2011. However, there are a total of 956 MW of projects currently in construction, so assuming 800 MW on the year would not be overreaching. In other words, in 2011, the cumulative installed utility PV capacity in the U.S. could triple, moving from under 400 MW to over 1,200 MW.

Number of developers with at least one project operating or one PPA in place: 96

This number is particularly telling. The landscape for project development in the U.S. has become extraordinarily crowded, with developers entering the market from all walks of life. A brief accounting of active developer types:

1)      Vertically Integrated Manufacturers such as SunPower, First Solar and SOLON, which use their project division at least in part as a throughput enabler for their products. SunPower and First Solar hold pole position in the market now, having been active in project development (internally and through acquisition) for longer than any other major developer.

2)      Semi-Vertically Integrated Manufacturers such as MEMC/SunEdison and Sharp/Recurrent Energy. These are suppliers that have acquired developers but maintain the developer’s brand and may not exclusively use their own wafers or modules in projects.

3)      Pure Play U.S. Project Developers such as Agile Energy, Lincoln Renewable Energy, Clean Power Group, and a multitude of others seem to arise weekly with announced “pipelines” of hundreds of megawatts, if not gigawatts. While some of these developers (including the three mentioned here) are successfully moving forward with projects, many are bidding extremely low PPA prices in order to obtain pipeline and will face difficulty if component prices do not crash prior to the time for procurement.

4)      EU-Based Project Developers such as juwi Solar, Belectric, and Phoenix Solar are all taking their successes in markets such as Spain, Italy, Germany and France, and applying them toward the U.S. market. Juwi Solar has come the farthest along this path, having completed three projects already, but many others are opening offices and bidding on PPAs. A number of these developers have been forced to recalibrate their timing expectations for the U.S. market as they discover the complexity and competitiveness emerging in this market segment.

5)      Traditional Independent Power Producers (IPPs) such as NRG, LS Power, Tenaska, and Constellation Energy have owned and operated other assets (natural gas, wind, coal, etc.) for years and have only recently seen enough volume in the utility PV market to warrant their interest. NRG has been most active among these players and has now hit the point where it is floating the idea of securitizing its PV project portfolio.  

6)      Utility Affiliates such as Sempra Generation (SDG&E affiliate), Duke Energy Generation Services, and PSEG Solar Source generally share a parent company with a utility and often develop projects outside their affiliated utility territories.

7)      Joint Ventures such as those between New Generation Power and Wanxiang, Panda Energy and ConEdison, and GCL-Solar and SolarReserve. Most often these JVs pair a well-capitalized conglomerate with a smaller project developer in need of project capital. Expect to see a number of the remaining pure-play developers entering into these partnerships over the next year.

Source: GTM Research U.S. Utility PV Market Tracker

Contracted Capacity for vertically integrated manufacturers: 5.2 GW
Contracted pipeline using Chinese c-Si (announced): 334 MW

Given that First Solar and SunPower are the undisputed leaders in the U.S. utility market, it should be no surprise that their category, vertically integrated manufacturers, maintains the largest share on the module supply side. However, there are 334 MW in the pipeline that have already selected Chinese c-Si manufacturers for use in their projects -- and likely a number of other projects that have made the selection but kept it private to date. Among these, the three leading players (Suntech, Trina, and Yingli) are among the few bankable suppliers and maintain the majority of this share. Expect further aggressive market entry and pricing from top- and second-tier Chinese manufacturers in order to get early projects on the ground in the sector. In addition, expect to see second-tier Chinese manufacturers offering project finance in exchange for the usage of their modules in order to gain a track record.

Number of utilities with at least one project operating or contracted: 57
Number of utilities with more than two projects operating and/or contracted: 18

These numbers indicate how young the utility PV market remains today. Although there are over 3,000 utilities in the U.S., only 57 have actively pursued a large-scale PV PPA or project ownership. Of those utilities, only 18 have been involved in more than two projects. In other words, many utilities are just considering large PV projects for the first time. This makes it more important than ever that early projects are completed on time; the last thing the industry needs is an early black mark caused by a spate of project failures.

All data in this article comes from the new GTM Research U.S. Utility PV Market Tracker. For more information or to schedule a demo, visit http://www.greentechmedia.com/pv-tracker/

Tags: finance, first solar, pv, solar, sunpower, suntech, utilities