The solar energy industry in the U.S. has seen tremendous growth and continues to make significant strides. According to data from the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA), there are more than 1.6 million solar installations across the country, indicating a growing acceptance of this renewable energy source.
Utility-scale solar developers play a critical role in advancing renewable technology. These solar project developers are responsible for the installation of solar farms, which contribute significantly to the nation's total solar power generation. These large-scale projects not only help reduce greenhouse gas emissions but also create jobs, contributing to economic growth. Furthermore, solar panel shipments in the United States grew by 33 percent in 2020, with 89 percent imported mostly from Southeast Asian factories. This underscores the importance of domestic utility-scale solar developers in reducing dependence on imports and boosting local manufacturing.
In this article, we will discuss some of the top solar energy developers in the US and their contributions to utility-scale solar development nationwide.
Top Solar Energy Developers in the US
The advancement of renewable energy advancement in the United States is led by utility scale solar companies. These solar power developers and utility solar companies push projects nationwide that help to spur the transition towards renewable energy.
First Solar, Inc.
First Solar Inc. has made significant contributions to utility-scale solar development in the United States. The company's thin-film PV technology produces energy-efficient modules with superior degradation rates, temperature coefficients, spectral and shading responses, making them a key player in the industry. They design and manufacture solar photovoltaic panels, modules, and systems specifically for utility-scale development projects.
The company is committed to sustainability and is aiming to go 100% renewable across its global operations by 2028, which will significantly reduce their carbon footprint. In terms of manufacturing, First Solar has announced plans for its fifth U.S. manufacturing facility, expected to be operational in 2026. This new facility will contribute to the company's existing 14 GW capacity in the U.S.
Furthermore, through partnerships, like the one with Nashville-based Silicon Ranch, First Solar is expanding its reach and impact. The partnership led to the introduction of large-scale solar projects in states like Tennessee, Georgia, and Mississippi, and expansion in Arkansas.
NextEra Energy Resources, LLC
NextEra Energy, one of the top solar developers in the nation, has established itself as a significant contributor to utility-scale solar development in the United States. The company is renowned for its commitment to decarbonizing the power sector by investing heavily in renewable energy sources, particularly wind, solar, and battery technologies. As the largest electric utility in the U.S., NextEra Energy also holds the distinction of being the world's top producer of wind and solar energy.
The company has spearheaded numerous innovative projects, including the nation's first utility-scale project that combines wind, solar, and battery storage, developed in partnership with Portland General Electric. This project underscores the company's commitment to pioneering sustainable energy solutions.
In terms of growth, NextEra Energy has ambitious plans. The company aims to double its renewable energy portfolio and has plans to develop up to 42 GW of commissioned renewable energy and storage. In fact, the company commissioned 5 GW of renewables and storage in 2022 alone, with a plan to place approximately 32,700 MW to 41,800 MW of renewable energy and storage in service between 2023 and 2026.
Furthermore, NextEra Energy Partners, a subsidiary of NextEra Energy, owns interests in wind and solar projects across the U.S., as well as natural gas infrastructure. This reach extends to partnerships with other companies, such as Nucor Corp., for which it agreed to supply 250 MW of renewable energy from Sebree Solar.
Duke Energy has demonstrated a strong commitment to utility-scale solar development in the United States. The company has made significant strides in renewable energy, particularly solar energy, as an integral part of its electricity supply. Duke Energy's efforts have resulted in customers across their service territories using about 4,000 MW of solar capacity from both large, utility-scale facilities and smaller setups.
The company has successfully completed numerous projects that have increased their total installed solar capacity in the U.S. to 185 MW at 23 utility-scale facilities. One prominent example is the completion of Florida's first solar power plant in Bay County, demonstrating the company's commitment to growing renewable energy in Florida.
Additionally, Duke Energy recently reached a significant milestone, now owning, operating, or purchasing more than 10,000 megawatts of solar and wind energy throughout the country. The company also unveiled Kentucky's largest utility-scale rooftop solar site, a joint partnership with Amazon, further aligning with both companies' renewable energy goals.
Duke Energy Sustainable Solutions (DESS), a non-regulated commercial brand of Duke Energy, has actively been involved in solar development projects, including the acquisition of Pike Solar, a new solar power plant being constructed to serve customers of Colorado.
Southern Company has made substantial contributions to utility-scale solar development in the United States. As part of their strategy for reducing greenhouse gas emissions, they have embraced a diverse energy resource portfolio that includes low and no-emission power sources. Southern Company's renewable energy portfolio is robust, comprising 42 solar projects spread across six states.
The Southern Power subsidiary of Southern Company has been particularly active in solar development. It owns more than 2740 megawatts of solar generating capacity at 30 facilities that are either operational or under development in states including California and Georgia.
In Georgia, the company's Georgia Power unit is pursuing what is currently the largest voluntary solar generation portfolio of any utility in the U.S., with over 850 MW online. Southern Company's recent acquisition of the Boulder Solar I Facility in Nevada further underscores their commitment and growing success in acquiring and developing utility-scale solar projects.
Dominion Energy has been a key contributor to utility-scale solar development in the United States. The company has undertaken several initiatives and collaborations that exhibit their commitment to renewable energy. For instance, in 2021, Dominion Energy announced an innovative collaboration with The Nature Conservancy to develop solar projects within the Cumberland Forest Project, covering nearly 1,700 acres.
In another significant development, Dominion Energy signed eight long-term power purchase agreements (PPAs) with RWE, a leading renewable energy company, for seven solar projects. This collaboration is a testament to Dominion Energy's commitment to bolstering its renewable energy portfolio.
The Dominion Energy Solar Program, a five-year plan, aims to reduce carbon emissions by 80% by 2050. The program involves creating 16 new utility-scale solar projects. Moreover, the company has proposed more than a dozen new solar projects totaling nearly 800 MW of capacity in Virginia.
Dominion Energy also made headlines with its acquisition of the Foxhound Solar Project from Longroad Energy, marking the first utility-scale solar project to receive pollinator-friendly certification. This initiative underscores Dominion Energy's dedication not only to increasing renewable energy production but also to sustainable and environmentally friendly development practices.
Challenges Faced by Utility-Scale Solar Developers
Utility-scale solar developers in the U.S. face several challenges, including land acquisition, regulatory hurdles, financing and market risks, grid interconnection, and environmental impact and community opposition.
Land acquisition is a major challenge for utility-scale solar developers. The availability and suitability of land are crucial factors in planning and implementing solar projects1. Developers must consider factors such as the size and shape of the land, its proximity to transmission lines, and its sun exposure. In addition, developers often face local zoning appeals and challenges, complicating the process of securing suitable land for solar farms2.
Permitting and regulatory hurdles also pose significant challenges. The process of obtaining permits can be time-consuming and complex, often involving multiple jurisdictions and agencies. Regulatory barriers can further complicate this process, especially in states with less favorable policies for renewable energy3.
Financing and market risks represent another significant challenge. While the costs of solar technology have decreased over time, upfront capital costs can still be substantial. Additionally, changes in government incentives and policies, such as the Investment Tax Credit (ITC), can create market uncertainties that affect project financing4.
Grid interconnection is another hurdle faced by solar developers. Connecting a solar project to the grid involves technical and procedural challenges, which can lead to delays and increased costs1. For instance, the grid may need to be upgraded or expanded to accommodate the additional power from the solar project.
Finally, environmental impact and community opposition can pose significant challenges. Solar projects can have impacts on local ecosystems, which must be carefully managed to avoid harm. Moreover, community opposition can arise due to concerns about visual impacts, property values, or potential environmental harm5.
Despite these challenges, the U.S. solar industry continues to grow. However, overcoming these obstacles will require strategic planning, innovative solutions, and supportive policies.
Innovative Solutions in Addressing These Challenges
Addressing the challenges faced by the top solar developers in the US requires a multi-faceted approach. For instance, to tackle the issue of land acquisition, developers can use tools like those provided by LandGate, which offers comprehensive property data and valuation services. These tools can help developers identify suitable land for solar development, assess its value, and navigate zoning and permitting issues more effectively.
In terms of regulatory hurdles, industry advocacy can play a significant role in shaping favorable policies for renewable energy. Organizations such as the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA) actively work to influence policy and regulatory decisions at the state and federal levels.
To mitigate financing and market risks for solar development companies, developers can explore diverse financing options, including power purchase agreements (PPAs), green bonds, and even crowd-sourced funding. Additionally, long-term planning and risk assessment can help developers adapt to changes in government incentives and policies.
Overcoming grid interconnection challenges necessitates close collaboration with solar farm developers and utilities and grid operators. Developers can also leverage advanced technologies, such as smart inverters and energy storage systems, to enhance grid integration.
Lastly, addressing environmental impact and community opposition requires a commitment by the largest solar developers in the US to sustainable practices and community engagement. Developers should prioritize minimizing environmental impact, implementing mitigation measures where necessary, and engaging local communities early in the project development process.
It's clear that while utility-scale solar development faces several challenges, there are also numerous solutions available to solar developers in the USA. The key is to leverage resources, technology, and partnerships effectively to navigate these challenges and drive the growth of solar energy in the U.S.
If you’d like to learn more about LandGate’s solutions to challenges faced by the country’s top solar development companies, click here to learn more about the platform or book a demo directly with a member of the dedicated energy markets team.