Greentech MediaFebruary 6, 20201244
A year out from a leadership change that saw solar company co-founder Tom Buttgenbach buying out founder and CEO Martin Hermann, 8minute Solar Energy has a new name, an expanding footprint in new markets and a record-breaking solar-plus-storage project under contract with Los Angeles' municipal utility.
8minute now ranks in the top five solar power developers in the U.S., according to data from Wood Mackenzie Power & Renewables. The California-based developer is increasingly garnering attention for its eye-popping solar power system sizes and an aggressive move into paired storage.
The recent announcements are “the culmination of years' worth of effort,” said Sean Kiernan, the solar company’s senior vice president of development, but they're also the result of 8minute’s focused development approach.
The rift between Buttgenbach and Hermann stemmed in part from disagreements about whether to keep 8minute’s solar power developments in the U.S. or go global. With Buttgenach’s U.S.-centric vision the winner, 8minute has been reaping the rewards.
8minute has traditionally focused on solar panel installations in its home state. It has finished projects providing electricity to all three of the state’s large investor-owned utilities, Pacific Gas & Electric, Southern California Edison and San Diego Electric & Gas, sited in two inland desert counties.
More recently, 8minute has branched out to Nevada and Texas — solar energy markets that look relatively similar to California in terms of land and market dynamics and where large solar power projects are viable, according to Kiernan.
The developer recently tied up negotiations on two more projects in Texas, totaling 525 megawatts. In July, it sold to Duke Energy a 200-megawatt project located in west-central Texas, a part of the state seeing a larger number of bigger solar panel installations.
Last summer 8minute also announced one of Nevada’s largest solar-plus-storage projects, the Southern Bighorn Solar & Storage Center, which will include 475 megawatts of solar panels and 540 megawatt-hours of storage. It’s also developing another solar panel-only project in Nevada that was utility NV Energy’s largest when announced in 2018.
Geographic granularity is vital to project economics in the rapidly evolving U.S. solar energy market, Kiernan said.
“This industry nowadays is so competitive from a [levelized cost of energy] perspective, the difference of 15, 20 miles, of being in one part of the California desert over the other, can have a huge influence,” said Kiernan.
Announced last July, 8minute's record-breaking Eland project with the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power will sell its power for under $40 per megawatt-hour, a record low in the U.S. The PPA's solar-alone price, under $20 per megawatt-hour, also ranks among the cheapest prices in the U.S. At the time of its announcement, 8minute said the project's 24/7 dispatchability would help "dispel misconceptions about the availability and long-term viability of solar."
The Eland project will go up in Kern County, a portion of the state 8minute knows well. It has completed six solar panel installation projects there, with LADWP acting as offtaker on several of them.
The same attributes that make California and Texas enticing to 8minute deter it from entering markets in certain parts of the U.S. where it can’t reach the scale it favors.
“While New England ISO is a really interesting market, it just doesn’t lend itself to large-scale solar,” said Kiernan. “It’s just a different game.”
“There are not a lot of huge tracts of land, [no plots of] several hundred acres that [are] pancake-flat in some of these areas in the United States. […] Where we are, we don’t have to deal with those constraints,” he added.
Aside from breaking into new geographies, 8minute is increasingly adding storage to its solar energy projects — a trend Eland and its recently announced project in Nevada demonstrate.
That dynamic is due to the cheaper price of batteries but also demand from customers to match electricity to renewable supply. The city of Los Angeles, which LADWP serves, plans to meet a goal of 100 percent renewable energy by 2045 under its Green New Deal, meaning it will have to wean itself off of natural gas. NV Energy, the offtaker for 8minute’s Nevada solar power projects, has to adhere to a new Nevada law that raises the state renewable energy portfolio standard to 50 percent by 2030 and lays out a goal of 100 percent clean energy by midcentury.
“In the markets we focus on, I think there are, and probably increasingly will be, opportunities for larger-scale solar projects with significantly larger batteries to be competitive in markets that are perhaps seeing the retirement of baseload generation,” said Kiernan. “There’s a replacement dynamic.”
Though none of 8minute’s 2 gigawatts of solar energy operating projects are paired with storage, most of its 15-gigawatt (AC) pipeline has a storage component. The developer is also pursuing 132 megawatts (AC) of standalone storage.
How to monetize batteries hasn’t always been clear, said Kiernan. But 8minute recognized the potential value early on as well as the likelihood of high customer demand for it.
“At this point, in most of our markets, [and] certainly internally as we look at our portfolio, every project is assumed to have the ability to have storage incorporated into it from day one,” Kiernan said.
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