Source: U.S. Energy Information Administration, Preliminary Monthly Electric Generator Inventory, November 2018
The United States has more than 2,500 utility-scale solar photovoltaic (PV) electricity generating facilities. Most of these power plants are relatively small and collectively account for 2.5% of utility-scale electric generating capacity and 1.7% of annual electricity generation, based on data through November 2018.
EIA considers utility-scale generating facilities to be those where total generation capacity is one megawatt (MW) or greater. However, some utility-scale sites use more than one generating technology. At utility-scale facilities where PV is one of several technologies in use, the PV capacity itself may be less than one megawatt, but this is relatively rare: based on EIA’s latest data, only 20 sites with a total combined capacity of 10 MW were in this category.
The growth in small utility-scale facilities is driven by several factors, many of which are tied to state-level policies and practices. For example, North Carolina used the Public Utilities Regulatory Policies Act of 1978 to allow utilities to set long-term purchase agreements with solar facilities, enabling solar developers to secure project funding more easily and spurring growth.
Currently, North Carolina has 433 utility-scale PV facilities with capacities no greater than 5 MW, the most of any state, and accounting for nearly a quarter of all utility-scale PV facilities in the country between 1 MW and 5 MW. These facilities collectively account for 1,803 MW of capacity, or 35% of the total U.S. PV capacity located at facilities with 1 MW to 5 MW of installed capacity.
In other states, the growth of small utility-scale PV capacity is encouraged by strategies that include, for example, community solar facilities. Community solar facilities offer a share of their solar capacity for sale to off-site customers who may not necessarily have access to solar generation. In these programs, customers may subscribe to a designated community solar facility and receive monthly credits on their electric bills for the energy generated by the share of solar capacity they purchase. The average community solar facility has a capacity of 2.0 MW.
Growth in small utility-scale facilities is expected to continue through 2020. EIA’s Preliminary Monthly Electric Generator Inventory for October 2018 reports that most of the 216 solar PV facilities that will come online by the end of 2020 will have capacities of five megawatts or less.
Solar PV facilities with less than one megawatt in capacity are not included in EIA’s surveys of electricity generators, but their aggregate capacities are included in the EIA’s survey of electric power sales, revenue, and energy efficiency and are represented in EIA’s Electric Power Monthly. EIA estimates small-scale solar PV capacity to be about 40% of total solar capacity connected to the grid as of November 2018.
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Headline crude prices for the week beginning 11 February 2019 – Brent: US$61/b; WTI: US$52/b
Headlines of the week
Midstream & Downstream
Global liquid fuels
Electricity, coal, renewables, and emissions
2018 was a year that started with crude prices at US$62/b and ended at US$46/b. In between those two points, prices had gently risen up to peak of US$80/b as the oil world worried about the impact of new American sanctions on Iran in September before crashing down in the last two months on a rising tide of American production. What did that mean for the financial health of the industry over the last quarter and last year?
Nothing negative, it appears. With the last of the financial results from supermajors released, the world’s largest oil firms reported strong profits for Q418 and blockbuster profits for the full year 2018. Despite the blip in prices, the efforts of the supermajors – along with the rest of the industry – to keep costs in check after being burnt by the 2015 crash has paid off.
ExxonMobil, for example, may have missed analyst expectations for 4Q18 revenue at US$71.9 billion, but reported a better-than-expected net profit of US$6 billion. The latter was down 28% y-o-y, but the Q417 figure included a one-off benefit related to then-implemented US tax reform. Full year net profit was even better – up 5.7% to US$20.8 billion as upstream production rose to 4.01 mmboe/d – allowing ExxonMobil to come close to reclaiming its title of the world’s most profitable oil company.
But for now, that title is still held by Shell, which managed to eclipse ExxonMobil with full year net profits of US$21.4 billion. That’s the best annual results for the Anglo-Dutch firm since 2014; product of the deep and painful cost-cutting measures implemented after. Shell’s gamble in purchasing the BG Group for US$53 billion – which sparked a spat of asset sales to pare down debt – has paid off, with contributions from LNG trading named as a strong contributor to financial performance. Shell’s upstream output for 2018 came in at 3.78 mmb/d and the company is also looking to follow in the footsteps of ExxonMobil, Chevron and BP in the Permian, where it admits its footprint is currently ‘a bit small’.
Shell’s fellow British firm BP also reported its highest profits since 2014, doubling its net profits for the full year 2018 on a 65% jump in 4Q18 profits. It completes a long recovery for the firm, which has struggled since the Deepwater Horizon disaster in 2010, allowing it to focus on the future – specifically US shale through the recent US$10.5 billion purchase of BHP’s Permian assets. Chevron, too, is focusing on onshore shale, as surging Permian output drove full year net profit up by 60.8% and 4Q18 net profit up by 19.9%. Chevron is also increasingly focusing on vertical integration again – to capture the full value of surging Texas crude by expanding its refining facilities in Texas, just as ExxonMobil is doing in Beaumont. French major Total’s figures may have been less impressive in percentage terms – but that it is coming from a higher 2017 base, when it outperformed its bigger supermajor cousins.
So, despite the year ending with crude prices in the doldrums, 2018 seems to be proof of Big Oil’s ability to better weather price downturns after years of discipline. Some of the control is loosening – major upstream investments have either been sanctioned or planned since 2018 – but there is still enough restraint left over to keep the oil industry in the black when trends turn sour.
Supermajor Net Profits for 4Q18 and 2018
- 4Q18 – Net profit US$6 billion (-28%);
- 2018 – Net profit US$20.8 (+5.7%)
- 4Q18 – Net profit US$5.69 billion (+32.3%);
- 2018 – Net profit US$21.4 billion (+36%)
- 4Q18 – Net profit US$3.73 billion (+19.9%);
- 2018 – Net profit US$14.8 billion (+60.8%)
- 4Q18 – Net profit US$3.48 billion (+65%);
- 2018 - Net profit US$12.7 billion (+105%)
- 4Q18 – Net profit US$3.88 billion (+16%);
- 2018 - Net profit US$13.6 billion (+28%)