Fitch: Solar Projects Much More Reliable Performers Than Wind Farms .
It might be obvious to anyone in the renewable energy business, but a growing body of data collected by Fitch Ratings backs it up: Solar projects are a safer bet than wind farms when it comes to kicking out the expected amount of power.
Many wind farms significantly underperform expectations, according to a recent Fitch analysis. On the other hand, solar arrays are proving so reliable over time that developers are finding themselves able to secure financing on more favorable terms - an important long-term tailwind for the market.
Remarkably, the biggest threat to the credit ratings of some California solar projects these days is not the plants themselves but rather questions around the future viability of their utility offtakers.
When renewable developers approach banks for project finance, they are often asked to provide what are called "P50 probabilities," which estimate how much power will be generated on an annual basis.
Taking a range of factors into account, from long-term weather assessments to how similar equipment has performed in the past, a P50 forecast puts a number on how much a project is expected to generate in a given year; half the time it should crank out more power than its P50 forecast and half the time less.
It turns out that many wind farms are generating less electricity than expected, and in some cases significantly less, Fitch said in a recent research note.
That's happening despite ongoing advancements in wind turbine technology and improvements in resource analysis.
Looking at a group of around 70 renewable energy projects globally, Fitch found that 86 percent of the time solar projects performed right around their P50 forecast - or better. Only 7 percent of the time did solar plants perform "significantly" (more than 10 percent) below their P50.
"Cultivating the coexistence of agriculture and solar farms."
Most Americans have heard of solar farms, but how about solar farmers?
A quarter of California farms, nearly 2,000 altogether, are generating onsite solar energy, making it far and away the national leader, according to a 2011 report by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) outlining the use of solar on farms. Hawaii, Colorado and Texas count over 500 farms producing solar power, while Washington, Oregon, New Mexico, Arizona and Montana have over 200 each.
Today, agricultural operations across the country are using solar to offset their costs in a variety of ways. The USDA report noted that a family-owned dairy in Maine installed one of the largest commercial solar thermal systems in the northeastern U.S. on its roof, reducing its heating oil costs by $14,000 to $20,000 a year. A cattle ranch in North Carolina installed a solar-powered pump to supply water to its herd of calves and cows. A sheep-farming family in New York installed a solar hot water system that covered more than half of its hot water needs.
Out of America's top 10 farm states, North Carolina (surprisingly) and California (unsurprisingly) have managed to install America's largest solar capacity, with 2,866 megawatts and 10,577 megawatts, respectively. They are certainly not alone.
"Iowa and North Carolina have been particularly compelling stories," said Karlee Weinmann, a researcher at the Institute For Local Self-Reliance (ILSR). "They have had a focused effort on solar, in terms of feeding their states' clean energy economies, as well as responding to farmers and others in the agricultural industry who express interest in renewable generation."