Texas’ solar market is about to catch fire

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There is a lot of information that is publicly available on the U.S. electricity system. And one of the richest sources of this information is the nation’s grid operators.

At the beginning of this year, pv magazine USA reported on the flood of projects in the interconnection queues of regional grid operators, finding 139 GWac of projects in five grids. Since that time, we found another 26 GWac of projects in the Southwest Power Pool queue, bringing that total to 165 GWac.

But that was a snapshot, and since that time project development has proceeded – particularly in one of the most active regions, the Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT), which covers the large majority of Texas’ area and population.

In December, the volume of solar applications in ERCOT’s interconnection queue exceeded those of wind for the first time, at over 40 GWac. But it didn’t stop there, and the January report from ERCOT published earlier this month finds a stunning 43.5 GWac of solar projects, most of which are in West Texas with some in the Panhandle and South Texas, and even a few on the Gulf Coast.

But as any developer will tell you, not all of that is going to get built. In fact, most of it won’t. Which leaves a question that is hard to answer: How much will?

 

Multi-gigawatt market

Perhaps even more important than the 43.5 GWac figure in the interconnection queue is that 5,081 MW of these projects have interconnection agreements. Furthermore, with the exception of a mammoth 495 MW project in Borden County, all of these projects are scheduled to come online in 2019 and 2020.

However, ERCOT lists only about half of these, or 2,657 MW, as having “financial security and notice to proceed”. But of these, 11 projects totaling 1,232 MW are expected to come online during 2019 and five totaling 717 MW have met the requirements for being included in planning models.

Strangely, the ERCOT report does not yet list any of these as having begun construction, although Wood Mackenzie estimates that 440 MWdc of utility-scale solar is under construction at present.

If even the 1,232 MWac of projects which have financing and notice to proceed come online, this will be the first year that Texas installs more than 1 GW of solar. But it is important to note that the interconnection queue is an evolving document, and that more projects are likely to be approved for interconnection, reach financial close and get built this year. As such, the 1,232 MW figure can be considered a starting number for what is likely to go online over the course of the year, and by any measure Texas’ solar market is about to see a major boom.

ERCOT’s interconnection queue is also seeing a boom in battery projects, but this market is not as developed as solar. 2,847 MW of battery projects are in the interconnection queue, but so far only one of these has been approved. More on that one later.