Utility-scale solar outlook: Top concerns for development in 2024

The utility-scale solar sector is poised for growth in 2024. To understand the challenges and opportunities available, your faithful editors at Solar Builder tapped into some of the industry’s top minds to understand the utility-scale solar market.

We asked our experts, what is the top challenge or concern you have for large-scale solar project development in 2024? Here’s what they had to say:

Borrego solar O&M
Borrego Solar installation at 3651 Middle Country Road in Calberton, NY. (Photo By: Greg M. Cooper / Borrego Solar)

Matt Beasley, chief commercial officer at Silicon Ranch

“Over the past few years, we’ve observed a significant increase in local opposition to solar projects across the country, and it’s long been my opinion that this troubling development presents the most existential threat to the energy transition and decarbonization efforts in the U.S. today. Silicon Ranch has thus far been successful in overcoming this opposition in the communities where we locate — we are proud to have a 100% track record for successful project delivery — but without question, it’s getting more challenging and taking longer for our industry to permit solar projects around the country and even harder to earn the social license from host communities.

“A couple of distinguishing characteristics about Silicon Ranch’s business model is that we own, operate, and maintain every project we develop. Even rarer, we emphasize owning the underlying property where we site our projects, rather than leasing it. And so when you know you’re going to be the long-term owner of both the project and the property it occupies, that does influence how we think about the work that we do and the responsibilities we have to be good corporate citizens in the communities where we locate and responsible stewards of the land that we own, not only during the development process, but throughout the project lifecycle.

“Proactive education of local stakeholders and genuine, thoughtful dialogue are increasingly critical components of successful project development, but for all of us to be successful in 2024 and beyond, the solar industry will need to demonstrate our value to local communities not only by our words, but also by our actions and our collective approach to responsible development and land management.”

Scott Buckley, president of Green Lantern Solar

“I have a few top concerns for utility-scale solar going in to 2024: supply chain disruptions, political uncertainty and shifting views on renewable energy, and tax equity. We are seeing a re-shoring of manufacturing, but sufficient capacity will not be online for the U.S. to meet 2024 goals. We will continue to rely on overseas manufacturing for years until our supply meets internal demand. We are also concerned that renewable energy is a political football. House Speaker Mike Johnsons’ first order of business was to gut the IRA of billions in funding. The bill passed the House, and we are concerned about what could occur if the executive branch doesn’t veto the bill in 2024 and beyond. The solar football also means more local resistance as folks are fed inaccurate information, like solar panels leaching toxic chemicals. This sounds possible to the uninformed but is incorrect (as confirmed in a 2023 report by NREL and the Colorado School of Mines).”

Aaron Halimi, president and founder of Renewable Properties

“Renewable Properties focuses on small utility, community solar, and energy storage projects ranging up to 20 MW. What we have in common with large-scale developers are permitting challenges and facing more local opposition when developing solar in agricultural and small communities. There is a great deal of misinformation on social media about the health, environmental, and economic impacts of solar projects. Visual aesthetics is another point of opposition, although that can be mitigated with vegetative screening or landscaping. Another common point is land conservation of existing open spaces or agricultural land. As a result, our team is spending more time and resources on addressing specific local requirements, reports, impact studies, and land conservation concerns.”

Austin Willenbrock, senior manager of strategic partnership and EPC delivery at Inovateus Solar

“The top challenge could be obtaining and securing sufficient land for solar projects, especially in densely populated areas or regions with competing land use interests. Additionally, navigating regulatory hurdles and obtaining permits have always been the biggest obstacle for developers. Even in the case of following state regulations, developers tend to run into obstacles with the counties that are in the process of tightening their regulations based on community pushback. To overcome these obstacles, it is paramount for a developer to educate and articulate the benefits of solar to the community. Community engagement and education are critical for gaining local support, addressing concerns, and fostering a positive perception of solar projects. At Inovateus Solar, we believe transparent communication, outlining community benefits, and involvement in the planning process have contributed to the success of our development portfolio.”

Ben Lipari, assistant VP of resource development at Alliant Energy

“As we accelerate the transition to a cleaner and more reliable energy future, we are mindful of customer impacts and remain focused on delivering cost-effective projects. Managing utility-scale solar risks and delivering quality products and services for our customers remain top priorities.

“By planning ahead and managing risks, we have successfully navigated supply chain and logistical challenges, allowing us to be on schedule to successfully complete our 1.1GW utility-scale solar program delivering clean, zero-fuel-cost energy to our customers. While we’ve had success, we rely on a wide range of partners to manufacture and deliver equipment and supplies and meet system requirements for our customers. Across the industry, there continues to be challenges and concerns regarding supply chain uncertainty, including equipment procurement, with a number of projects being delayed significantly.

“Our top challenge for 2024 is likely to be navigating the Midcontinent Independent System Operator’s (MISO) interconnection process and the risks associated with volatility with cost estimates provided to date.”

John Shaw, utility sales manager, Pacific Region, at Trina Solar

“A big challenge for utility-scale solar project development in 2024 will be the availability of tax equity within the broader context of evolving regulatory environments and policies supporting renewable energy. Tax equity has been a primary source of funding for utility-scale solar projects, and while the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA) extended and expanded the use of federal tax incentives, industry analysts estimate that tax equity will need to more than double from its current $20 billion annual market to meet the IRA’s goals.

“This concern is exacerbated by urgent decarbonization goals around the country, increasing demand for solar projects. However, the complex interconnection process and extended queue lengths reflect the industry’s struggle to keep pace with the surging demand for solar energy and will require more streamlined regulatory frameworks.

“The consequences of supply chain disruptions caused by the global pandemic have compounded the demand challenges by creating other backlogs, with high-voltage breaker and transformer procurement taking anywhere from 50 to 150 weeks.

“Meanwhile, a decline in Tier 2 modules due to detainment risks has caused a scramble for Tier 1 modules, which are not typically in stock domestically for utility-scale needs and often require several months of procurement runway.”

Mike Hall, CEO of Anza Renewables

“The top concern continues to be interconnection. At Anza, we help our buyers procure solar modules and storage, and they can’t do that until they have clarity on the timeline and the costs associated with interconnecting. Interconnection issues are what is actually delaying their ability to procure, as opposed to supply chain issues.

“We’ve also seen our customers facing interconnection delays. For example, if they have an expectation for a project timeline, they may even start the procurement process based on that timeline. However, utilities and Independent System Operators frequently miss their stated timelines. This leaves developers with the difficult decision of either incurring costly cancellation charges or taking inventory of product well before it’s needed on site. Beyond interconnection, developers are increasingly facing issues with local approvals and financing.”

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