This past week showed that solar is continuing its march toward being a major new energy source in the U.S., and around the world. For example, for the first time ever solar was the only energy source that added new utiltiy-scale power to the U.S. grid. In California, solar’s biggest market in the U.S., installers don’t seem to be too worried that the state’s solar incentive program is nearing fulfillment, showing that the market is reaching higher levels of maturity. Meanwhile, in at least one other state, Arizona, the amount of solar is expected to double the amount installed last year. And on the financing side of things, new financing tools are continuing to prove popular.
First off, for the first time ever solar comprised all the utility power installed in a month. In March 2013, all 44 megawatts of new electric generation was solar. But in the bigger picture, solar is becoming a major new energy source in the U.S. The same Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) Energy Infrastructure Update report also showed that in the first quarter of 2013, solar comprised 537 megawatts of the 1,880 megawatts utilities brought only. In fact, solar was only outpaced by wind, which added 958 megawatts of new generation capacity to the grid during the period.
In California as many people are aware of, solar has proven popular. Thanks in part to high electric prices, but also to the California Solar Initiative, which has steadily decreased as the price of solar has come down and is now nearing it’s end. Something that a number of industry experts and installers, like EcoSolargy Founder Alan Lee have said isn’t a bad thing. At this point the residential and small commercial CSI program is going through its last two steps in most, if not all markets.
Last year California neighbor, Arizona saw its biggest utility, APS, install an impressive 148 megawatts of new solar, with a lot of it coming from distributed resources like homes. It was a record for the state. But the record’s likely to be dwarfed in 2013 as it plans to brings on 299 megawatts in major projects alone.
New funding mechanisms for solar also continue to make a splash. For instance, Mosaic touched off the week by announcing a new initiative to fund $100 million in solar projects in California through the crowdfunding model that’s proved popular with microinvestors so far. In announcing the new pipeline of projects and the opportunities to invest in them, the company also announced its first offering under the program, a 114 kilowatt, $157,750 project on the Ronald McDonald House in San Diego—it was fully funded within six hours of being offered, according to the company.
Meanwhile crowdfunding’s big brother, bonds, are also increasing their presence in solar. Two investor services companies, Fitch Ratings and Moody’s Investor Services, announced ratings on an anticipated second bond offering to fund MidAmerican Energy Holdings’ 550 megawatt Topaz Solar Farm. The project was valued at more than $2 billion. Already the company offered an $850 million round of bonds, which solar quickly. The second round is anticipated to be a $250 million round of notes. Both companies looked at the offering as positive, based on the project’s progress and other factors.
That project is being built by First Solar, which recently announced a slew of good news during its investor day conference last week. During the conference, the company announced it had set a new record for cadmium telluride module efficiency at 16.1 percent—and its roadmap for increased efficiency was moved up, putting it more on pace with silicon PV. At the same time it said it anticipated higher earnings for 2013 than previously thought. And finally the company announced that it purchased TetraSun, a start-up that produces high-efficiency silicon PV devices, signaling that the company is interested in entering more markets.