Solar project pipeline pleasures

NPD Solarbuzz puts U.S. PV pipeline at 43GW, E3i enters the EPC arena, another Chilean solar project moves forward, former Staten Island dump to go solar

project pipeline

Sometimes the term “pipeline” is bandied about in solar project circles in such a way that one would think all those proposed PV power plants slogging their way through the early and middle stages of development were on the verge of being built. But the numbers still tell a nice story. As reported at PV-Tech, PV magazine, Quartz, and elsewhere, NPD Solarbuzz’s latest “United States Deal Tracker” analysis says the total U.S. solar PV pipeline has grown to a prodigious 43GW.

Along with that big number, the market research firm provides a proper breakdown of all those many projects into those being installed, those planned, those in preplanning, and those that have been delayed. The overwhelming majority of the projects tracked—87%–fall in the plan/preplan category, with only 8.5% (about 3.65GW) actually under construction. While a significant number of the pipelined power plants will probably be built (certainly a higher percentage than the number of venture-backed startups that succeed), a large portion will not be constructed because of failure to get a power purchase agreement, lack of financing, environmental site considerations, and other reasons. In other words, let’s ease up on the hype and not get ahead of ourselves and assume that those healthy pipeline numbers translate into future installed generating capacity.

A new firm that hopes to tap some of that burgeoning U.S. PV pipeline for EPC and O&M contracts gets some play in a post at Renewable Energy World. The company, E3 International (E3i), boasts a serious roster made up of veterans of the first wave of utility-scale solar, led by First Solar’s former EPC head, Jim Lamon. The E3i team will focus on projects from about 20MW to as large as 400MW and use only crystalline-silicon modules (despite Lamon’s and the other former Firsters’ thin-film PV pedigree), according to the story.

“Prospective customers are currently solely in the Southwest and Southeast U.S., sized around 20MW up to above 100MW, all of whom knew E3i’s execs from past solar or fossil-fuel deals,” Lamon told REW. “The company already been shortlisted on nine deals for what he called ‘a nice volume of work,’ and he projects the company will start its first utility-scale solar PV project by mid-2014. Based on what he’s seen from potential customers, business for 2014 ‘looks good’ including some that’s ‘below the radar,’ while prospects for 2015 and 2016 are ‘very strong.’”

Chile’s PV pipeline has also grown precipitously over the past few years, but so far, most projects remain in various stages of development. But a growing number of plants are now under construction, such as the 100MW Amanecer Solar CAP and 50MW San Andres projects (being built by SunEdison and due to come online in 2014) as well as the latest to move closer to reality, Enel Green Power’s 36MW Diego de Almagro site. The PV farm, which will be equipped mostly with 3Sun micromorph/amorphous-silicon thin-film PV panels, is expected to generate up to 80GWh annually.

SunEdison is also involved with a solar project quite different from those coming together on the Atacama Desert tracts in Chile. The company will lease 47 acres of Freshkill’s Park on Staten Island, once the site of NYC’s biggest landfill, to build a ~10MW PV plant, according to a story on the Staten Island Advance website. Some details of the lease contract are still being worked out, and the construction timeline has yet to be announced. The solar array will not be the first renewable energy installation at the former garbage dump. “The city already captures methane gas created underground–enough to heat 22,000 homes–at the site and sells it to National Grid for about $3 million a year,” the report noted.