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Electricity Monthly Update

With Data for July 2018  |  Release Date: Sept. 25, 2018  |  Next Release Date: Oct. 24, 2018

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Highlights: July 2018

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U.S. solar capacity consists of many small plants

The United States has over 8,800 utility-scale generating facilities. Solar photovoltaic (PV) facilities represent the largest share of this population with more than 2,450 sites and about 27.5 gigawatts (GW) of installed capacity. Although more than half of installed PV capacity comes from sites 50 megawatts (MW) or larger, most of the capacity and most utility scale PV facilities are less than or equal to 5 MW. Small utility-scale facilities, those ranging from 1 MW through 5 MW of capacity, account for 18% of total installed solar capacity and 72% of utility-scale solar facilities located in the 50 states.

Source: U.S. Energy Information Administration, Preliminary Monthly Electric Generator Inventory, July 2018
Source: U.S. Energy Information Administration, Preliminary Monthly Electric Generator Inventory, July 2018

The growth in small utility-scale facilities is driven by several factors, many of which are tied to state-level policies and practices. For example, largely driven by policies under the Public Utilities Regulatory Policies Act of 1978, North Carolina has 416 small utility-scale PV facilities, the most of any state in the United States and 23% of the national total. North Carolina also leads the country in operating small utility-scale PV generating capacity with 1,734 MW, which is 36% of the total U.S. PV capacity in that segment.

In other states, the growth of small utility-scale PV capacity is incentivized by programs such as community solar. Community solar facilities, solar farms that offer a share of their solar capacity for sale to off-site customers who may not necessarily have access to solar generation, appear to be growing within the small utility-scale market. In these programs, customers subscribe to a designated community solar facility and receive monthly credits on their electric bills for the energy generated by the share of solar capacity they purchase. The average community solar facility is 3.0 MW.

An example of the role of community solar can play in the growth of small utility-scale solar facilities is in Minnesota where community solar facilities account for more than 36% of Minnesota’s total operational PV capacity and 68% of total community solar capacity in the United States.

Overall, much of the U.S. solar industry is characterized by a large number of small facilities. The rapid growth in the number of these facilities is changing the overall portfolio of U.S. electricity generating plants.


Principal Contributor:

Alexander Mey
(Alexander.Mey@eia.gov)

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