System-level performance and degradation of 21 GW-DC of utility-scale PV plants in the United States
We assess the performance of a fleet of 411 utility-scale (i.e., >5 MWAC and ground-mounted) photovoltaic (PV) projects totaling 21.1 GWDC (16.3 GWAC) of capacity, which achieved commercial operations in the United States from 2007 to 2016. This fleet of projects contributed more than 50% of all solar electricity generated in the United States in 2017. Using detailed information on individual project characteristics, in conjunction with modeled irradiance data, we assess the extent to which actual first-year performance has lived up to both modeled and stated expectations. We then analyze system-level performance degradation in subsequent years by employing a “fixed effects” regression model to statistically isolate the impact of age on system performance. We find that this fleet of utility-scale PV projects has generally lived up to ex ante expectations for first-year performance but that subsequent system-level degradation—found to be −1.3%/year (±0.2%)—has, on average, been worse than both ex ante expectations (commonly −0.5%/year) and results from past studies (ranging from −0.8%/year to −1.0%/year). We emphasize that −1.3%/year is a system-level estimate that captures more than just module degradation (e.g., including soiling, balance of plant degradation, and downtime for maintenance and/or other events). A side analysis of a variety of project characteristics suggests that system-level degradation rates tend to be of lower magnitude among newer projects and larger projects and at sites with lower long-term average temperatures.