Utility Scale Solar power employs the use of large scale solar power collection to be sold wholesale. Utility scale differs from distributed solar generation in that power generated is sold to utility buyers at a fixed price. This means that utility scale solar cost does not fluctuate during periods of high or abnormal energy demand. Additionally, unlike other power production methods, utility scale solar plants and projects do not produce common pollutants or greenhouse gases.
Despite popular belief, utility scale solar power companies and projects do not need to be based in countries or areas that receive a large amount of sunlight. Germany, home to many kinds of intermittent weather, produces an astonishing amount of solar based power. This makes utility scale solar power and its production a viable global option when it comes to meeting energy needs or cutting down on fossil fuel reliance.
In terms of land type in the United States, it used to be extremely prevalent for utility scale solar projects to be built on vast and remote desert lands. This tradition is changing and more and more utility scale solar plants are being built on places like old/unused agricultural lands or next to areas that already produce another kind of utility. Ultimately this allows a utility scale solar plant to be built in a variety of places that may be closer to the grid and population that the energy produced would be sent to. New federal ITC programs make adoption that more wide spread in the U.S.
Regardless of location, in the United States, an overwhelming majority of utility scale solar projects and plants have a Power Purchase Agreement with a utility. There are fewer utility buyers than utility scale solar produces, but once set and locked in, a power purchase agreement guarantees the utility scale solar producer a specific amount of time in which there will be a market for the solar power that is being produced. The planning, building, and operation of a utility scale power plant has the potential to create a large number of skilled jobs both related to direct energy creation and the business side of an operation. This integrates more people to be more aware about where their power is coming from and how their communities are directly impacted by the creation or planning of a utility scale solar project.
A 2015 study revealed that “median installed photovoltaic prices within a sizeable sample have steadily fallen by nearly 60% since the 2007-2009 period…”. Essentially the increased popularity of building utility scale projects has been accompanied by lower installation costs. More Power Purchase Agreements have levelized for utility scale level operations. “Most Power Purchase Agreements in the 2015 sample are priced at or below $50/MWh levelized, with a few priced as aggressively as ~ $30/MWh.” These lower utility scale solar costs allow photovoltaic projects and plants to better compete with new fossil-fuel based generation and companies.
Unlike traditional or new fossil fuel based energy operations, utility scale solar companies never deplete the site they have built on of natural resources or necessary energy producing material. Instead utility scale solar depends on the upkeep and maintenance of existing plants. Sunlight is a near infinite resource so utility scale solar projects rarely have to move.
Utility scale solar projects are also being developed to provide energy to one or more large energy users. For example, Apple has solar farms powering their California headquarters and a 200MW farm in Nevada to power its data center in Reno.
Overall the world is gradually moving into a state where utility scale solar projects, their costs, and the energy they produce are being considered serious and necessary options when it comes to grid level energy production. Utility scale operations simplify and standardize solar energy as compared to distributed models when it comes to serving a large population or community.