Plant-level performance and degradation of 31 GW-DC of utility-scale PV in the United States
In this updated study, which samples 50% more capacity than the original and adds two additional years of operating history, we assess the performance of a fleet of 631 utility-scale PV plants totaling 31.0 GW-DC (23.6 GW-AC) of capacity that achieved commercial operations in the United States from 2007-2018 and that have operated for at least two full calendar years. We use detailed information on individual plant characteristics, in conjunction with modeled irradiance data, to model expected or “ideal” capacity factors in each full calendar year of each plant’s operating history. A comparison of ideal versus actual first-year capacity factors finds that this fleet has modestly underperformed initial expectations (as modeled) on average, though perhaps due as much to modeling issues as to actual underperformance. We then analyze fleet-wide performance degradation in subsequent years by employing a “fixed effects” regression model to statistically isolate the impact of age on plant performance. The resulting average fleet-wide degradation rate of -1.2%/year (±0.1%) represents a slight improvement (seemingly driven by the oldest plants in our sample) over the -1.3%/year (±0.2%) found in our original study, yet is still of greater magnitude than is commonly found. We emphasize, however, that these fleet-wide estimates reflect both recoverable and unrecoverable degradation across the entire plant, and so will naturally be of greater magnitude than module- or cell-level studies, and/or studies that focus only on unrecoverable degradation. Moreover, when focusing on a sub-sample of newer and larger plants with higher DC:AC ratios—i.e., plants that more-closely resemble what is being built today—we find a more moderate sample-wide average performance decline of -0.7%/year (±0.4%), which is more in line with other estimates from the recent literature.