Solar energy projects put online in 2013 include Abengoa’s 280 MW Solana Concentrated Solar Thermal Power plant, the largest CSP plant in the world.
The United States added 266 utility-scale solar photovoltaic (PV) and concentrating solar power (CSP) power plants totaling 2.94 GW in 2013, according to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC).
This represents a 43% increase over the capacity added in 2012, and also larger projects. The average size of utility-scale PV and CSP projects put in service in 2013 was 11 MW, as opposed to 5.8 MW in 2012.
This does not count “behind the meter” residential and commercial PV systems. Many U.S. government agencies and grid operators either do not count these systems or do not report their findings, and as such these statistics are not directly comparable to European solar statistics.
NPD Solarbuzz (Santa Clara, California, U.S.) and GTM Research (Boston, Massachusetts, U.S.) have estimated the total size of the U.S. PV market at 4.2 and 4.3 GW respectively. Since FERC’s numbers include the 280 MW Solana CSP project which was commissioned in 2013, this would translate to around 1.6 GW of behind-the-meter PV. GTM Research has not released final numbers for 2013.
Despite these relatively large numbers solar remains a marginal resource in nearly all parts of the United States. According to the U.S. Department of Energy, PV and CSP, including behind-the-meter systems, only met 0.44% of the nation’s electricity demand in 2013. This is less than 10% of the portion of demand met in Spain and Germany (around 5% each) or Italy (7.0%).
Also, the capacity of utility-scale solar added was dwarfed by natural gas additions. Due to the current low prices and plentiful supply of natural gas from hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”), the United States has been adding natural gas units very rapidly, with 77 units totaling 7.27 GW added in 2013.
Following gas, the next-largest additions were coal plants, with two units at 1.54 GW, and wind, with 18 units at 1.13 GW. The nation’s wind market has seen a crash following the 12.4 GW of capacity added in 2012. During 2012 wind was the largest source of new generation at over 40% of new capacity.