Sweet Answer from Solar Mango: (updated Jul 2015)
What are utility scale solar power plants?
Utility scale solar refers to large-scale solar power plants, typically starting with 1 MW and going all the way to even 1000 MW. These are usually ground mounted solar power plants that export all the power generated to the grid.
Such MW solar power plants could be constructed as just solo power plants of relatively small sizes (1-5 MW) or as part of large solar farms (100+MW each).
While almost all these MW-scale, ground mounted solar power plants export the power generated to the grid, the ultimate buyer of the power could either be the utility (a government-owned electricity board), a third party private company, or in certain cases the buyer could be the owner of the power plant itself, in which case it is termed as captive solar power plant.
Both governments and commercial investors worldwide are finding utility scale solar power plants to be attractive.
Utility Scale Solar Advantages
While solar PV is a modular technology, large, utility scale solar farms still have significant economies of scale advantages over small rooftop solar power plants. As a result, the cost of electricity generated from utility scale solar power plants is lower than that generated from rooftop solar power plants. Added to this, utility scale solar power plants also find favour with governments that have large solar targets, as these targets can be much more easily achieved through a few large utility-scale power plants than from hundreds of thousands of small rooftop solar power plants.
Countries like the U.S have boosted investments in utility scale solar through loan guarantee programs. The loan guarantee program provides access to capital at a lower cost and larger quantity than what private markets would provide without the program. This helped the utility scale solar sector pick up speed. Sunny states like California are the front-runners of investment in utility scale solar power plants.
Setting up a utility scale solar plant is often easier than rooftop installations even though it is more investment intensive. The below pictures aptly illustrate the same:
Rooftop solar installation (Source: UtilityDive)
Utility scale solar layout (Source: Elp)
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