NextEra: solar and wind plus batteries will be “massively disruptive” to conventional generation

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Only one day after the U.S. Department of Energy’s Energy Information Administration (EIA) projected that coal’s decline will slow, gas will dominate the future energy mix and that wind will peter out after the PTC ends (our response here), one of the nation’s largest and arguably its most successful power companies has a very different forecast for the future.

In NextEra Energy’s fourth quarter results call, CEO Jim Robo dropped another bombshell, with his statement that solar and wind plus storage will be cheaper than coal, oil or nuclear, that this will be “massively disruptive to the conventional fleet” and that it will provide opportunities for developers well through the next decade.

Robo’s exact math is that even after the federal tax credits expire, wind will be 2 – 2.5 cents per kilowatt-hour, large-scale solar will be 2.5 – 3 cents, and storage will add .5 – 1 cent. This would put these resources slightly below the current cost of natural gas-fired generation, without the uncertainty around fuel prices that is inherent to gas.

Robo has been similarly optimistic about energy storage in the past, stating in a 2015 analyst conference covered by Greentech Media that “post-2020, there may never be another peaker built in the United States — very likely you’ll be just building energy storage instead.”

 

Ongoing growth in renewables

These comments came as NextEra announced results for a strong fourth quarter and full year 2018, including growing renewable energy development. NextEra Energy Resources, the company’s competitive power arm, put 326 MW of solar online, including 125 MW of distributed generation. This represents a more than 50% growth on 2017 installation levels, but the company is just getting started.

NextEra already holds contracts for 1,773 MW of solar projects expected to come online in 2019 and 2020. Underlying the uncertainty around project development, it says that it could put anywhere from around 900 MW to 3.3 GW online over the next two years. Beyond that, NextEra also has 1,521 MW of solar projects which are slated to come online after 2020.

The company’s energy storage development is also growing. While the company’s 37 MW of deployments in 2018 was only 23% larger than 2017, NextEra also has 50 MW of batteries planned for 2019-2020, and 415 in the post-2020 timeframe.

NextEra also put 1.4 GW of new wind projects online in 2018, and the company notes that it had the biggest year for origination to date, adding 6.5 GW of wind and solar projects to its backlog. But while wind is going to boom the 2019-2020 period, NextEra is looking at a longer runway for solar.

In particular, NextEra CEO Robo states that “IRS start of construction guidance on solar ITC positions us well for substantial solar and storage growth well into the next decade”.

 

FPL’s solar ambition

NextEra’s solar activity is not limited to its competitive power arm. Nine days ago NextEra subsidiary Florida Power and Light announced a plan to deploy 30 million solar panels –  around 10 GW – by 2030. This includes pairing solar with battery storage, as the company is already doing, and during the call NextEra noted that it already has sites for 7 GW of these projects.

 

PG&E contracts

Despite the looming legal battle between NextEra and Pacific Gas and Electric Company (PG&E) over the indications that the California utility could try to modify legacy solar power contracts with NextEra-owned plants, the power giant expressed confidence.

In fact, it stated that while it will definitely fight for its contractual rights (including a proactive filing at FERC), NextEra still says that even in a worst-cast scenario, where it gets no further contributions from these projects, NextEra Energy Resources will still achieve its annual 12-15% growth in distributions in distribution through 2023.