US surpasses 5 GW of utility-scale solar capacity


The United States soared to the top spot in utility-scale capacity and overtaken China in the process after a storming last quarter, according to the latest data from Wiki-Solar.

The bustling solar market allowed the U.S. to leapfrog over China, which had ranked No. 1 in utility-scale capacity early in 2013.

Recent figures from CAISO, California’s transmission grid operator, show that major new capacity came online between October and December from several of the world’s largest solar power stations, including three partly-complete First Solar projects: Desert Sunlight being built for GE and others, which now has 470 MW connected out of an eventual 550 MW capacity; Topaz Solar Farm for MidAmerican (237 of 550 MW); and Exelon’s Antelope Valley (230 of 250 MW).

The latest figures also include several 100+MW projects now fully connected, including First Solar’s 290 MW Agua Caliente, SunPower’s 250 MW California Valley for NRG Energy, Sempra’s 165 MW Mesquite I, Tenaska’s 130 MW Imperial South and GE’s 127 MW Arlington Valley.

Coupled with substantial new capacity around the country in mid-size projects between 4 and 92 MW, this raised total U.S. capacity to over 5 GW — more than double the 2.2 GW existing at the start of 2013, Wiki-Solar reported.

"We’ve known for some time that America’s pipeline of giga-scale projects would take it to the top of the table," said Wiki-Solar’s Philip Wolfe. "Thanks to a further 12 GW still in development, it should stay there for some time, though China’s progress is also impressive – and they have a habit of springing new capacity on us with little warning."

Wiki-Solar’s figures are all based on the grid output capacity of the stations and the latest definition of utility-scale solar above a threshold of 4 MWAC.

Industry analysts anticipate that worldwide capacity in 2013 topped 20 GW.