Solar and storage top US utilities' wish-list, says BNEF

The majority of U.S. utilities and organizations pursuing clean energy are choosing solar PV and storage over all other forms of renewable energy, say analysts from London-based research firm Bloomberg New Energy Finance (BNEF).

A recent BNEF report assessed 52 requests for proposals (RFPs) for renewable energy projects totaling 3.3 GW. Of these, 27 RFPs were for solar PV projects, and a further 12 for storage technologies. Such data are typically regarded as strong indicators of industry trends, said BNEF’s head of analysis Will Nelson.

"Utilities are targeting solar, especially in the West," Nelson told Bloomberg. "Last year was an up year for the utility-scale solar industry."

Of the 52 RFPs analyzed, 18 came from Western states, with seven of those emanating from three large California-based utilities seeking 1 GW of largely solar PV capacity. Duke Energy and Southern Co. led renewable development efforts in the Southeast, issuing RFPs for more than 900 MW of solar projects, while the single-largest RFP was a 600 MW wind power project issued by Wisconsin-based Alliant Energy Corp.

Overall, solar accounted for 1.8 GW of all RFPs assessed in the study, with energy-smart storage technologies also gaining traction among leading utilities and larger organizations.

"The data reveals particularly strong interest in energy storage," added Nelson. "Interestingly, most storage RFPs are looking for a relatively small amount of capacity… evidence that these may be initial experimental forays into a rapidly changing sector."

The correlation between RFP demand and industry growth is strong. RFPs act as leading indicators for trends because they are effectively solicitations for business issued by the utilities to potential vendors – in specifying what type of service a utility requires under the RFP, developers can bid to submit proposals specifically tailored to the utility’s needs.

"For project sponsors and equipment vendors, RFPs are the lifeblood of their business development efforts," said BNEF product manager Mark Taylor. "They also give an early but concrete glimpse into which sectors are catching the eye of the market, and about the strategic direction of utilities and other energy-consuming organizations."