Reasons to be cheerful: US utility solar pipeline is ‘stronger than ever’


WoodMac’s U.S. Solar Market Update webinar took a look back at the record PV installation results for 2019 — those long-ago simpler times — and looked ahead to 2020’s new solar landscape.

Colin Smith, senior analyst at the fossil fuel and renewables research firm, gave some reasons to be cheerful. He said, ‘Even going into a pandemic, the market is well-positioned.”

When the U.S. makes it through this episode

When the U.S. makes it through this episode, there’s still 30.4 GW of new solar contracted. This is voluntary procurement driven by price, rather than mandate. Solar growth is driven by merchant projects in ERCOT with no off-take agreement — just selling into the power markets. And it’s driven by corporate procurement. These conditions are in place now and will be in place as we recover.

Smith noted that “Economic competitiveness is still the primary driver” for solar, and that states without an RPS “are still seeing gigawatts come into play.”

Despite the collapse of the economy and our species’ immune systems, Smith expects 2020 to beat 2016 as the biggest year for utility solar on record. He said that even with a 26% shortfall from their forecast, “2020 would be the biggest year for utility solar.”

The forecast still maintains that by 2027, solar will make up more new capacity additions than coal, gas, hydro and wind combined.


Smith parsed the risks to utility projects into port shutdowns, component shortages, travel delays and site shutdowns. Best-case scenarios found delays of a a few weeks. Worst-case scenarios envision delays of 2 to 3 months.

The risks from port shutdowns and component shortages are minimal compared to the “more severe” issues of travel delays and site shutdowns from infected employees. The need and the risk for employees and officials to interact with each during construction, permitting, and commissioning has the “highest probability” of pushing out key milestones on utility-scale projects, according to the analyst.

Smith did note that there was plenty of room for social distancing on a 1,000-acre solar project.

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