Utility Scale Solar PV

Decarbonization Avenue : Utility Scale Solar PV


Utility solar PV refers to large-scale ground mounted solar power plants. The power from these power plants are exported to the grid from where it is bundled with power from the rest of sources.

Globally, utility solar PV power plants have seen some of the most aggressive growths seen in the energy sector in the recent past. From insignificant capacities until about 2010, the global utility solar power plant capacity reached over 550 GW by the end of 2020. This is a stunning growth that has made it overtake global installed capacity of wind power whose commercialization had started much earlier. This strong growth can be attributed mainly to the dramatic fall in the price of solar PV panels as well as in the key balance of system components such as the inverters.

As of 2020, utility solar power plants represent quite a relatively mature segment with robust technology and support solutions

Utility solar power plants can be deployed in most regions of the world that have reasonable sunlight. Even countries such as Germany that have solar radiation that are only half that of very sunny regions (such as the Middle East, India etc.) have been successful in implementing utility scale solar PV projects.

The key challenge for solar PV is its intermittency - it can work only when the sun is up. This necessitates the use of energy storage solutions such as batteries, which can significantly increase the cost of solar power for utility scale solar power generation.

Key innovations in the utility scale solar PV domain for the 2020-2030 period can be expected in improving the economics of battery storage, agro voltaics (agriculture combined with photovoltaics), floating solar power plants, use of digital solutions to enhance many components of the value chain (especially in maintenance & asset management) and effective grid integration of solar power. 

Decarbonization potential

About 1,73,000 TW of sunlight constantly strikes the earth, compared to total global electricity installed capacity of  about 6.6 TW in 2020 - that’s a factor of over 25,000! This comparison alone shows the immense potential solar PV holds for powering the earth with clean energy, even under very conservative assumptions.

The lifecycle carbon footprint of solar PV is quite low. While solar power generation in itself does not generate any CO2 emissions, CO2 emissions happen from the rest of the value chain (such as PV cells manufacturing) but these emissions are a fraction of those for thermal power plants - about 40 g/kWh compared to about 900 g/kWh for coal and about 450 g/kWh for natural gas power plants.

540 GW of utility scale solar power plant capacity has been installed globally by the end of 2020, already saving about 325 million tons of CO2 emissions per year. Going by the current global installation trends, one can conservatively expect at least 1.5 TW of utility scale solar power installed globally by the end 2030. That would equate to almost 1 billion tons of annual CO2 emissions savings.

Utility solar thus represents one of the most attractive decarbonization avenues, providing significant decarbonization of power at scale.

Industries impacted

  • Automobiles & auto components
  • Chemicals & petrochemicals
  • Internet & online solutions
  • Computers & software
  • Construction & real estate
  • Electrical
  • Electronics & semiconductors
  • Engineering goods & machinery
  • Fertilizers
  • Food & beverages
  • Mining & metals
  • Pharmaceuticals
  • Power
  • Road transport
  • Textile & apparel
  • Water

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Themes & Topics

  • O&M of utility solar power plants

    • Regular maintenance

    • Predictive maintenance 

  • Use of digital technologies to increase yields from utility solar power plants

  • Utility solar power plants in deserts & remote regions

  • Efficient solar power plant design

  • Integration of storage with solar PV power plants

  • Robust mounting structures & solutions

  • Solar trackers to enable higher yield

  • High efficiency solar panels

  • Solar PV inverters

  • Grid integration of power from utility scale solar power plants

  • Agro Voltaics

  • Floating solar & offshore solar power plants

  • Use of solar PV for renewable hydrogen

  • Integration of solar PV + hydro power dams

  • Recycling of solar panels

  • Cables, junction boxes and related electricals

  • Monitoring & SCADA systems

  • National & international policies

  • Education & training