Energy Cast Podcast: How a solar developer views the increasingly competitive field

My guest has built 18 Solar Farms across the U.S., adding 800 MW of capacity to the grid. This 5-MW AC power project in Pennsylvania is the largest customer-driven utility-scale project in that state.

Energy Cast is a podcast featuring some of the top experts across all links in the energy industry chain, including renewables, generation and more! Jay Dauenhauer created the show and has been hosting Energy Cast for several years.

Click below to listen to the full episode:

70+ episodes in, I finally got around to doing a proper solar farm episode!

Philadelphia-based Community Energy has been operating for over 20 years. Originally starting out as a wind developer (700 MW installed), they have now switched predominantly to solar.

Brent Alderfer, Community’s Founder & CEO, calls solar the “workhorse” of the power industry.

I asked him about competition among other commercial-scale solar developers (not even including residential rooftop companies.)  “It’s getting more competitive,” he says. “There are more request for proposals and more of these projects are going to bid.  Prices are coming down and that’s a challenge.”

He adds that developers consider three main factors:

  1. Site selection
  2. Grid interconnection
  3. Solar resource

Community develops both “build-to-own” and “build-to-sell” projects.  The latter can be owned by either a utility or a 3rd-party merchant power provider.

One of the biggest technology developments, he says, are single-axis tracking, whereby the cells move with the sun.  With most power demand coming at the end of the day, this allows solar farms to capture far more evening sun.

We also discussed energy storage, which Brent says is now a component of nearly every new solar project.  He attributes most of that to a tax credit that requires storage to be physically located near a solar farm.

With solar cell prices continuing to drop, Brent says the key metric is installed price per watt—the land purchasing, project management, and construction activities in addition to the cells.  Brent credits his (EPC-Engineering, procurement and construction) contractors for helping to maintain competitive costs.

“They have done their part in bring down the costs of installing these systems, he says.  “We view that as their specialty.”

He adds that with installed costs less than $1/watt, he believes costs will continue to drop for another 10 years.  Brent believes costs could settle around $0.50/watt.

What fascinated me most about Community’s projects was how non-Sun Belt some of them are located—MinnesotaMassachusettsupstate New York.

“If there is a place where it’s just not effective to put up solar generation, it’s certainly outside the areas we deal with,” he says, “So we’re good with all points in the U.S.” (This podcast originally aired in September 2019)

Energy Cast Podcast is hosted biweekly by Jay Dauenhauer.

Learn more about the podcast here.

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Jay Dauenhauer is a project manager based in Charlotte, NC. He currently serves as a PM developing transmission projects. For the past 7 years, Jay led water treatment and recycling projects for Oil & Gas operations. Jay's first foray in the energy sector was as a media analyst for TXU Energy during the $45B leveraged buyout of that utility in 2007. He then served as Executive Director of the Clean Coal Technology Foundation of Texas, working with stakeholders to pass clean energy legislation for the state. A Louisiana native and proud graduate of LSU, his career began as a TV news producer before transitioning into the energy sector. Back behind the mic, Jay hopes to bring his experience working across several energy sectors to you in a program designed to be accessible to both the public and industry insiders.

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