Texas grid expects 2 GW of new solar in 2016


Despite is enormous size, excellent solar resources and desperate need for mid-day power in the summer, Texas has not been a leading U.S. solar market. However it looks like that is going to change, starting this year.

Energy research company SNL, which is now a part of S&P Global Market intelligence, has released an analysis which projects that the Electricity Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT) grid will add 2.124 GW of solar PV this year, representing nearly a fifth of the capacity expected to come online.

SNL estimates that ERCOT had only 220 MW of installed utility-scale PV at the end of the year, which means that this would represent a nearly 10-fold increase. However, as this figure covers only plants over 1 MW that filed a form with the U.S. Department of Energy, actual installed PV capacity at the end of 2015 will be higher. GTM Research estimates that Texas has 534 MW of installed PV, however this figure includes areas in the state but outside of the ERCOT grid.

ERCOT is a separate grid from the other two U.S. grids, covering most of Texas' territory and 85% of the state’s demand. Demand on the ERCOT grid is has traditionally been mostly met with gas- and coal-fired generation, although in recent years wind has met more than 10% of annual electric demand.

This year a number of significant solar projects are under construction, led by those under power contracts awarded by municipal utilities in Austin and San Antonio. Austin Energy has signed contracts for 600 MW of solar PV which has yet to be completed, and OCI Solar Power had scheduled to complete 400 MW of solar PV for CPS Energy by the end of the year.

Texas has also seen the first utility-scale solar project to come online selling power into the spot market in the United States, although the Barilla project was open to future power contracts.

And while solar will still only represent an estimated 2% of ERCOT generation capacity by the end of the year, this is only the beginning. ERCOT itself has projected that 13 GW of solar PV will be installed by 2030, a 50-fold increase over 2015 levels.

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Correction: This article was updated at 4:20 PM EST (U.S.) on March 18 to include other estimates of installed solar capacity in Texas. As these estimates are very different from SNL's the headline and lead were also changed. The article was further updated at 12:30 PM EST on March 21 to provide further details as to the source of SNL's figure of 220 MW installed at the end of 2015.

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