While the PV industry faces the effects of large cuts in feed-in-tariffs across Europe, growth has continued in the United States with the total PV project pipeline exceeding 16.6GW in 2011. Recently announced figures indicate that overall capacity is set to grow more than 50 times by 2016, with utility-scale developments currently found in 29 out of 50 US states.
Industry sources also maintain that the recent confirmation that the first 500-MW phase of the 1GW Blythe solar thermal plant will now convert to PV, suggests that photovoltaics are a more attractive and stable option for developers and investors alike.
However, despite this progress the long-term sustainability of utility-scale projects are by no means guaranteed and costs will need to continue to decline if the industry has any hope of competing with cheaper, more established forms of energy production.
As 2011 draws to a close the stabilization of module prices has led experts to predict that balance of systems will assume a majority share of a PV project’s total cost within a year. In 2010 BoS costs accounted for approximately 44.8% of utility scale crystalline silicon project, with that percentage forecast to increase to 50.6% in 2012. This shift is driving the industry’s attention beyond the module towards achieving economic gains for key BoS components and services.
This and other issues affecting the segment will be discussed at the recently announced 2nd Utility Scale PV Plant Optimization Summit, taking place in San Jose, California (US) on 17-18 November.
The event will bring together technical experts from leading PV companies with First Solar, SunPower, Iberdrola Renewables, Juwi Solar, Belectric, Black & Veatch, Gestamp Solar and Cupertino Electric all set to share their expertise on how to improve utility scale plant performance.
Additionally the attendance of leading US utilities including the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission, Sacramento Municipal Utility District, Salt River Project and the California Public Utilities Commission has highlighted the importance of PV in the emerging US renewable energy economy, and the necessity to reduce LCOE and improve performance for all involved.
Event organizer Jack Ahearne said this week that “as the momentum behind utility scale PV continues to build in the US, it is vital that developers, EPC groups and investors acknowledge the impact that BoS design and engineering will have on the success rate of future projects, but more importantly on the entire industry’s track record in years to come”.
Key themes at the summit will include “sustaining growth in utility scale PV”(First Solar, San Francisco Public Utilities Commission, and California Public Utilities Commission), “PV plant planning and design” (Iberdrola Renewables, Belectric, Cupertino Electric), “plant lifecycle optimization” (SunPower, Black & Veatch, Juwi Solar).
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