Solar Power in Oregon & Portland

According to the Solar Energy Association, the U.S. installed 1,306 megawatts of solar in the first quarter of 2015 to reach 21.3 gigawatts (GW) of total installed capacity, enough to power 4.3 million American homes, a 27% increase over 2014.

The former SolarWorld Americas facility has been converted to produce SunPower’s P Series (19% plus) conversion efficiency modules using its patented ‘shingle’ cell interconnect technology boosting performance of P-type monocrystalline PERC (Passivated Emitter Rear Cell) technology. SunPower is currently the No. 1 commercial solar provider in the U.S. A total of around 2GW of new module manufacturing plans were announced for the US in 2017, which increased to almost 4GW in 2018.

P-Series panels benefit from a unique parallel circuit design that delivers more energy in row-to-row shading, enabling greater ground or roof coverage and offer 7% higher panel efficiency.

Collectively, more than 51% of all new electric generating capacity in the U.S. came from solar in Q1 2015. The residential and utility PV market segments each added more capacity than the natural gas industry brought on-line in Q1 2015.

In 2017, Arizonan utility Tucson Electric Power (TEP) has set a new low price record for solar power — below $.03 per Kilowatt hour on a 20-year contract with NextEra Energy. This is reportedly the lowest price for solar PV that has been achieved in the US to date (and about half the price of coal). The cost of power from large-scale solar arrays has fallen nearly 75% over the last five years. TEP says it is working to deliver at least 30% of its power from renewable resources by 2030.

Oregon’s largest solar farm west of the Cascades will be a a 10 megawatt solar farm using 35,000 photovoltaic cells for Portland General Electric. In addition to a 2030 deadline to phase out importation of coal-fired power, Oregon’s utilities must obtain half their power from renewable sources by 2040.

The 2016 Legislature created the Solar Development Incentive (SDI) to encourage the development of solar energy projects in Oregon by providing a cash incentive to owners of photovoltaic systems with a nameplate capacity of between 2 and 10 megawatts. Qualified projects enrolled in the program can receive a monthly payment of $0.005 per kWh of electricity generated, for a period of five years.

Iberdrola Renewables has fully permitted what will be its first major solar project in the state in Prineville. The 50- to 60-megawatt project, may be built in the next two years. While Iberdrola owns about 1,300 megawatts of wind power infrastructure, the company has only two other operational solar projects, in Arizona and Colorado totaling 50 megawatts.

Oregon’s first utility-scale solar project, the 2MW Black Cap solar facility, is currently the largest utility-owned and operated solar energy plant in Oregon. It is located near Lakeview, Ore and incorporates Advanced Energy’s AE500NX inverters. A 1.75-megawatt system near I-5 and Wilsonville, is operated by Portland General Electric.

The 1.75-megawatt Baldock installation, the largest of its kind in the U.S., sits atop 7 acres of formerly unused ODOT property and is composed of 6,994 SolarWorld solar panels. SolarWorld and Panasonic will build a 65 megawatt photovoltaic power station in southeast Malheur County, Oregon. It will be the largest single project in SolarWorld’s history.

Solar Star is a 579-megawatt (MWAC) photovoltaic power station near Rosamond, California. It is currently the world’s largest solar farm and uses 1.7 million SunPower solar panels, spread over 13 square kilometers (3,200 acres). The nearby Catalina Solar Project is a 143.2 megawatt (MW) photovoltaic power station near Bakersfield, covers 1,100 acres.

In the twelve months through June 2015, utility scale solar power generated 22.68 terawatt-hours (TWh). While that may seem like a lot of juice, it’s just a tiny 0.56% of total electricity used in the United States. Solar accounts for 1% of global electricity. But while it took 14 years to reach the 1% figure, solar may take just 2-3 years to reach close to 2%.

Solar and wind are currently the best alternatives to fossil fuels. But solar and wind (together) will not be enough to supply all the global energy needs, according to most studies. Oil and natural gas, say most experts, must remain in the mix for the foreseeable future.

The impact of fossil fuels on climate change depends on how long and how much they’re used.

By states, Oregon is in the middle, ranking between 18-25th in solar installations. According to the Solar Energy Association, PV installations are forecast to reach 7.9 GW in 2015, up 27 percent over 2014.

Solar prices keep dropping. The average price of a completed commercial PV project in Q2 2014 has dropped by 14% year over year and by more than 45% since 2012.

Collectively, more than 51 percent of all new electric generating capacity in the U.S. came from solar in Q1 2015. Solar added more energy capacity than natural gas in Q1 2015, with 66,440 individual solar systems coming online in Q1 2015, bringing the total to nearly 700,000 installations nationwide.

Some 36.5 gigawatts of new solar electric generation was installed worldwide in 2013, compared to 35.5 gigawatts of wind power, according to Clean Energy Trends 2014. In the U.S., solar installations will almost double by 2016 to 9.6 gigawatts, up from about 5.1 gigawatts in 2014.

SolarWorld made Hillsboro its U.S. headquarters in 2007 when it purchased a never-opened 750,000-square-foot facility from Japanese semiconductor maker Komatsu. SolarWorld Americas has invested $620 million to date in its Hillsboro plant, which currently employs more than 700. It’s been the largest U.S. crystalline silicon solar manufacturer for 40 years.

In January 2013, SolarWorld’s shares had dropped by a third and the taxpayer-subsidized Hillsboro factory was laying off some of its 2000 employees, with the possibility of sale or bankruptcy. SunPower acquired assets of SolarWorld Americas, including its Hillsboro, Oregon facilities.

A Portland clean-tech analyst calculates there is still 2.5 times more wind energy produced around the world than solar, but it projects that solar will surpass wind by 2021. It’s forecast is based on projections that the cost of photovoltaic solar will continue falling about 7 percent per year.

PGE solar rebates include rebates of $1 per watt of electricity produced, courtesy of Energy Trust of Oregon, up to a maximum of $10,000. The subsidy for Pacific Power rebates remain at 75 cents per watt, or a maximum of $7,500.

The Oregon tax credit remains at a maximum $6,000, or $1.90 per watt.

Solar systems generally have typically cost $4 to $6 per watt (installed), or $12-$15K for a 3,000 watt residential installation. Between state tax credits, Energy Trust incentives and federal tax credits, up to 80 percent of the cost of going solar can be covered, making it a good financial investment.

Solar Oregon engages the public with solar related programs.

Oregon’s controversial and now defunct business energy tax credit program for large solar projects was killed in 2010, with a 2012 sunset. But projects under construction were grandfathered in.

PacifiCorp is required to buy 8.7 megawatts of solar energy by 2020. By comparison, today’s natural gas or coal-fired power plant typically generates close to 250 megawatts. The Boardman coal-fired power plant has a nameplate capacity of 550 megawatts.

The Oregon Solar Energy Industry Association, Oregon’s only solar industry trade group, has more on the Feed-in Tariff and Oregon Renewable Energy Incentives. Solarize Portland is a solar panel volume-purchasing program led by neighborhood associations.

The DOE’s SunShot Initiative aims to reduce the total costs of photovoltaic solar energy systems by about 75 percent by the end of the decade, so that they are cost-competitive with other forms of energy without subsidies. Right now solar costs as low as $1/watt to manufacture, but $4 installed. A coal plant has an operational cost of $2.10 per watt. It’s estimated the solar industry will get to $2 per watt within the next five years[105]. But the sun don’t shine at night.

Solar Shot

At the beginning of 2014, the PV industry is more than 60 percent of the way to achieving SunShot’s target of $0.06 per kilowatt-hour within 10 years.

After 4 years, the average price for a utility-scale PV project has dropped from about $0.21 per kilowatt-hour to $0.11 per kilowatt-hour. According to the Energy Information Administration, the average U.S. electricity price is about $0.12 per kilowatt-hour.

U.S. Photovolatic growth.

A typical installed solar water heating system costs $6,000-$9,000 before incentives, says the City of Portland’s Sustainability Office. A solar hot water system saves the average family of four $150 – $300 a year. A 2kW photovoltaic system can trim 15- 20 percent off your electric bill. The actual end user cost of a photovoltaic system might be $3,000 ($300/yr over 10 years) or $25/month.

A photovoltaic system CAN pay for itself now — but don’t expect to get rich selling power to the utility company.

PGE pays the city of Beaverton for the solar power generated by panels on the roof of the Beaverton City Library, reports Sustainable Oregon. “It is a feed-in tariff, so we get paid for the electricity that is produced at approximately $7,000 per year for 15 years,” said PGE, noting the project was financed largely with a $100,000 federal grant, although the total project cost could run as much as $770,000 to refurbish much of the roof.

The 17.6 kilowatt solar array produced more than 22,470,000 kilowatt-hours of power in 2013, which translates to keeping nearly 30,000 pounds of carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere. A website shows how much power the solar panels generate by the minute.

The City of Portland is collaborating with Solar Oregon, Oregon Department of Energy and Energy Trust of Oregon with the partnership campaign Solar Now, a one-stop resource for homeowners and businesses.

Oregon has an estimated 2,700 people employed in the solar industry, 14th-highest among the states and 11th-highest per-capita, according to a new report by the Solar Foundation. Solar jobs grew in 43 states last year, according to the Solar Foundation.

But in 2011 and 2012, competition in the solar power industry, was brutal. The price of solar panels dropped 60 percent in two years, according to the Solar Energy Industries Association, after a decade of booming growth.

However, the first quarter of 2014 shows bookings increased 18% to reach US$296 million, 44% higher than the same quarter a year ago and the highest quarterly value since the first quarter of 2012.

The solar industry is now transitioning to a post-subsidy reality. PV incentives for California homeowners are now effectively gone, but it won’t cause even a blip in California’s solar growth rates, says GreenTech Media. The CSI program has been a rousing success, say its champions.

U.S. Photovolatic production

Prices for solar panels have declined by around 75% in the past 10 years and now contribute less than half the total installation cost of an average rooftop system. Solar panel prices in the U.S. have brought the average panel price down to near $1 per watt.

By 2015 the cost of PV systems is expected to drop by an additional 40%. PV systems then are expected to compete with electricity prices from the grid in many locations around the United States.

In 42 of the 50 biggest U.S. cities, solar is now cheaper than grid electricity. The projections from 5 years ago were apparently accurate.

Portlanders would save on average $44/month on a 5KW system, according to a study by North Carolina State. The hope is that a 5KW PV system might pay for itself in 10 years with zero subsidy. But, of course, you need sunshine to make that happen.

Oregon’s KW/hr rates are generally among the lowest in the country. Our cloudy weather combined with our low electricity rates make solar less attractive compared to the Southwest or Northeast with higher electricity rates and more sun. The solar industry, however, finds Oregon an attractive location for manufacturing, due to our silicon expertise and infrastructure.

OSU has three solar arrays in Aurora, Hermiston, and the largest on 35th Street in Corvallis, providing the campus with 2,200 kilowatts of power. Since that array went online, the school’s electricity bills are 50 percent of what they cost in 2013. OSU leases the land to SolarCity, which installs, owns, maintains and operates the solar equipment which is tied to the electric grid.

The OSU Solar Trailer is a portable device provides electricity to campus and community events such as Earth Week, the Beaver Community Fair, da Vinci Days, Fall Festival, Oregon State Fair and others.

Crystalline silicon panels[60], like those made by industry leader SolarWorld in Hillsboro, Oregon[61], dominate 90% of the industry today[62]. Silicon prices have dropped recently, making traditional Monocrystalline silicon[63] more competitive, on a cost per watt basis, although competition from China is a constant worry.

Regional solar and electronics companies

The Portland region is positioning itself to be a production center for all three major photovoltaic technologies; Crystalline silicon[64], Cadmium Telluride[65] and Copper Indium Gallium Selenide[66].

  • Monocrystalline is the most efficient, which makes it well matched for the limited area available on homes and businesses.
  • Cadmium Telluride costs less, but is less efficient, so it’s often used on utility scale projects with lots of real estate.

Thin-film technology has proved challenging to commercialize[67], although both major thin film technologies; Cadmium telluride[68] and CIGS[69] seem posed to provide a more streamlined production process, lowering costs.

Cadmium telluride panel[70] manufacturers, like Solexant[71], in Greham, Oregon, claims they can manufacture solar panels for less than $1 per watt, while Startup CIGs developer SoloPower[72] is using a roll-to-roll electrodeposition process, as opposed to the sputtering, printing or evaporation used by most CIGS vendors. SoloPower says this allows it to utilize nearly 100 percent of the chemicals it employs in the process, which is much greater than the rate achieved using other CIGS processes.

Whether thin films will represent a huge shift in energy economics[73] remains to be seen.

Solar World sign; From Sustainable Oregon Business.

Photovoltaic manufacturers in the Portland region include:

  • SolarWorld[74], the largest manufacturer of solar panels in the United States. The company unveiled its 210,000-square-foot addition[75] to its Hillsboro, Ore., manufacturing plant in 2010. It is now the only monocrystalline solar manufacturing plant in the United States to produce every phase of solar panel manufacturing. SolarWorld will collaborate develop a 11.6-megawatt solar system[76] with the LA Department of Water and Power, using more than 46,000 solar modules on the 42-acre site. SolarWorld has been supported partly by tax incentives from the city of Hillsboro, the state of Oregon and the US government via the Recovery Act. SolarWorld Group has its main manufacturing operations in Hillsboro and in Freiburg, Germany.
  • SANYO Solar[77], claims to manufacturer the world’s most efficient solar panels, and has opened a monocrystalline growing facility in Salem, Ore[78]. The plant, spanning 130,000-square-feet at the Salem Renewable Energy and Technology Center and employing 200 highly skilled workers, represents an investment by SANYO of more than $84 million. Sanyo Solar grows crystals in Salem and slices them into wafers, which Japanese workers make into cells that go into panels in Japan, Hungary or Mexico.
SoloPower Flexible CIGS solar module.

Many CIGS (copper, indium, gallium, selenium) startups and cadmium-telluride have gone bankrupt or been acquired for pennies on the dollar, reports GigaOm. The only notable cadmium-telluride solar cell maker is First Solar, which managed to fend off its one big rival, GE. Hanergy Holding bought CIGs supplier Global Solar Energy.

The solar industry has had a disastrous 2012. Manufacturing over-capacity and declining revenues caused share values of several publicly listed PV companies to fall close to delisting levels, with operating losses reported in the hundreds of millions of dollars per quarter, and many manufacturers are continuing to file for insolvency.

Coalition for American Solar Manufacturing

SolarWorld, facing fight for survival, is seeking tariffs on Chinese solar products flooding the U.S., reports The Oregonian. The dispute has deeply divided much of the solar industry. The Coalition for American Solar Manufacturing(CASM) supports SolarWorld.

Coalition for Affordable Solar Energy

But the newly formed Coalition for Affordable Solar Energy which represents 132 companies, many of which rely on panels coming in from China, are against it. They say the trade complaint is “short-sighted” and would lead to higher-priced solar panels that could disrupt the growth of the U.S. market.

The US International Trade Commission has imposed import duties on solar cells. Frank Asbec, Solarworld CEO, said that some European solar energy companies may also sue Chinese photovoltaic companies and India is considering its own investigation into Chinese solar imports. Members of a U.S. trade commission voted unanimously to support SolarWorld in its case against China, concluding that Chinese trade practices have harmed American solar manufacturing.

In May, 2012, The US Department of Commerce declared it will impose tariffs of 30 percent (and as high at 249.6 percent) on Chinese manufacturers of solar panels. The move follows complaints from the Coalition for American Solar Manufacturing (CASM) that Chinese manufacturers are dumping panels at below-market prices into the US.

The tariffs are preliminary but will take effect immediately. Whether they will become permanent will depend on further investigation from the International Trade Commission and possible appeals from the affected companies.

Tucson-based Global Solar Energy has ceased operations in late 2012. They had been selling CIGS products on a flexible substrate for more than eight years. The plummeting cost of crystalline silicon solar panels from China has eroded the value proposition of CIGS thin-film solar which has so far failed to meet its promises of low cost and competitive efficiency.

GTM Research has these estimates for CIGS solar production numbers in 2011:

  • Solar Frontier, 577 megawatts
  • Solibro, 95 megawatts (Sold to Hanergy)
  • MiaSolé, 60 megawatts (Sold to Hanergy)
  • Solyndra, 40 megawatts (Bankrupt)
  • Avancis, 25 megawatts
  • Global Solar, 19 megawatts (Now selling only consumer solar products)
  • Soltecture, 14 megawatts (Bankrupt)
  • Nanosolar, 10 megawatts

Solar Frontier, the leader in CIGS production, sells 12 percent efficiency modules. GTM predicts that by 2016, CIGS technology will see the biggest growth, with the report anticipating 4GW in four years.

Solyndra has been the poster child for those who oppose US government subsidies of green energy. On September 1, 2011, the company ceased all business activity, filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy, and laid off all employees, barely a year after receiving more than $500 million in federal loan guarantees.


Solyndra planned to build cylindrical panels of CIGS thin-film solar cells in a new $733 million state-of-the-art robotic facility which opened in September 2010 in Fremont, California. It was built with the support of a $535 million federal loan guarantee along with at least $198 million from private investors.

Both Solyndra and First Solar are based upon non-silicon thin-film. But Solyndra’s higher production and distribution costs, along with a declining cost of higher efficiency Silicon killed its viability.

It didn’t appear much different then North Portland’s CIGs-based SoloPower.

SoloPower, a solar energy startup that received millions in incentives to open a Portland manufacturing plant, suspended operations, less than a year after starting up. SoloPower plans to lay off its remaining 29 employees and suspend operations on June 17, 2013, likely for good.

Now SoloPower Systems says new funding from old investor will finance restart in Portland. New Jersey-based Hudson Clean Energy Partners is leading a “substantial” funding round to restart production at the North Marine Drive factory that shut down last year.

SoloPower makes a flexible panel, but the high cost of SoloPower modules and low cell efficiency compared to competitors led to the company’s demise, reports PV Tech. SoloPower was apparently selling at US$1.80 per watt – more than double the cost of conventional panels which are approximately US$0.70 a watt.

SoloPower has received several million in loans from the Oregon Department of Energy, and a $20 million Business Energy Tax Credit from the state, from which it generated $13.45 million in cash in December. But in order for make use of their $197 million loan guarantee from the federal government, it first must meet certain production thresholds. It has yet to meet those marks.

SoloPower executives still believe the market wants a solar product like SoloPower that can be rolled out on a roof, for lower installation costs and can conform to curved surfaces.

Photovoltaic prices

The Solyndra loan controversy is a cloud that still hangs over green energy subsidies.

Lux Research, in a new report, projects the CIGS market will nearly double to $2.35 billion and 2.3-gigawatt demand in 2015, up from 1.2GW today, as the technology emerges “into an early growth phase.”

Global Solar has shown “slow but steady progress” with its CIGS-based PowerFlex technology used in Dow’s solar shingles, but “needs to adopt a less conservative approach,” according to the Lux research report.

Other investments have supported the industry’s R & D. The University of Oregon’s SuNRISE lab contains $1 million of state-of-the-art equipment to analyze solar cells[92].

Microinverters[93] can be installed on each panel to eliminate the “Christmas light” effect, where shadow on one panel can kill a serial-connected string. With microinverters, each panel outputs 110 volts AC. If one panel is in shadow it does not effect the output of other panels. Enphase[94] has pioneered this technique and offers online monitoring of your installation[95] – here’s a 4.81 kW solar array in Portland[96].

PV Powered[97], based in Bend, goes the opposite route, offering utility-scale inverters such as their 260kW, 97% efficient[98] commercial inverter.

Portland Energy Map.

Portland’s Bureau of Planning and Sustainability has created the Oregon Clean Energy Map showing solar information. The Bureau of Planning and Sustainability founded Clean Energy Works Portland, a Solar Energy Program, a Biofuels program and offers marketing and technical expertise to Solarize Portland, a solar panel volume-purchasing program.

Solar Highway

The nation’s largest “solar highway” opened in August 2012 at the Baldock Safety Rest Area off I-5 near Wilsonville. The $10 million roadside solar project is using nearly 7,000 solar panels to generate renewable power in a public right of way. It can create enough electricity to power 165 homes. ODOT sees solar highways as a way to pay for road work in the future, since electric cars pay no gas tax.

Solar map of the United States from National Renewable Energy Labratory.

The National Renewable Energy Laboratory[99] has solar maps of the United States. Oregon may be a good place to make solar panels, but our sunshine pales compared to America’s Southwest.

Solar map of Germany

Proponents of solar energy say Germany gets similar solar exposure as the state of Alaska. Yet Germany is the global leader in solar installations. In Germany, the industry boomed after the Renewable Energy Act in 2000[100], which guarantees investors above-market fees for solar power for 20 years from the point of installation. Germany added 7 gigawatts (GW) of capacity in a record-breaking year in 2010 to bring the total to nearly 17 GW, equal to 17 large power plants.

According to three industry experts[101], though 13 percent of power generated in Oregon comes from wind and solar, solar makes up less than one percent of the mix, or less than one tenth of one percent of the state’s total energy picture.

Grid Parity in Los Angeles

A very rough calculation of a solar array in Los Angeles finds that the average value of a solar-produced kWh is 15.1 cents over a year. That suggests that solar power is not yet at grid parity, even with time-of-use pricing. Solar is cheaper than nuclear energy[102], according to Duke University[103]. iSuppli predicts that around 13.6 GW of PV will be installed this year[104].

The 290-MW Agua Caliente Solar Project, 65 miles east of Yuma, Arizona, will contain five million panels when it is completed in 2014. That’s a lot of First Solar panels.

Currently, the largest solar power installation in the world[107] include the 48-MW Copper Mountain Solar Facility in Nevada[108], finished on Dec 1st, 2010, now the largest PV plant in the United States. More than 350 construction workers installed 775,000 First Solar panels that power the plant on the 380-acre site. Power from the Copper Mountain Solar Facility[109] (and the adjacent 10 MW El Dorado Solar Power Plant) has been sold to Pacific Gas & Electric under separate 20-year contracts. The completion of the project eclipsed the 20-MW DeSoto PV plant in Arcadia Florida, which was the previous record holder for the largest U.S. solar power plant.

NRG Energy[110] recently bought the 290-megawatt (MW) Agua Caliente solar project[111] in Arizona. The project, scheduled to be completed by 2014, is expected to be the largest operational photovoltaic (PV) site in the world. Agua Caliente will use First Solar thin-film panels. Solar thermal uses mirrors to boil water. It’s being used to generate electricity in California, Nevada and elsewhere.


The two biggest photovoltaic markets in 2011 were Italy and Germany, which account for nearly 60% of global market growth of photovoltaics during the past year, according to the European Photovoltaic Industry Association.

The Obama administration has approved a thousand-megawatt, $6 billion solar project in California[112] on federal land, spread over 7,000 acres. Solar panels, to be competitive without government subsidies, will have to cost $1 per watt says the DOE[113].

Grid Parity

In the screenshot above, countries in purple have reached grid parity in 2012, as well as a 6 percent expected return on investment for solar developers. Germans — with a decade of low-risk under their feed-in tariff — are installing solar for half the cost in America ($2.60 per Watt compared to $5.20)

The Solar Shot Initiative to lower the cost of solar to $1 per watt and the anti-dumping duty of 31% are the Obama administration’s 1-2 punch for solar energy.

A Bloomberg News Energy Finance report found that solar and wind will have a 60% share of electricity generation in Europe by 2030. Europe will invest nearly US$1 trillion to increase its renewables capacity by 2030, with rooftop PV accounting for US$339bn and onshore wind US$250bn.

Renewable energy will also increase its share in the Americas from 7% in 2012 to 28% in 2030, while coal-generated capacity will drop from 21% to 9%. The report adds that the Americas will add 943GW of capacity by 2030 – with 522GW added to the US, 341GW to Latin America and 80GW to Canada. According to GTM Research, the US residential PV sector will expand beyond 1GW for the first time in 2014.

Solar, like wind and hydro, is a long term investment with a significant front-end cost. A variety of financing instruments can make it profitable over 7-10 years. The idea is to phase out government subsidies for the United States to become more energy self-sufficient and “greener”. Solar enables individuals and businesses to take charge of their own destiny, bringing grid power home while lowering cost and green house gases.

With cheap hydro power and lots of wind available in the Northwest, sun power would have to get lots cheaper before it becomes a significant player here. But they said the same thing in Germany, with a similar climate, ten years ago. It’s now a world leader in solar power generation. Of course Germany doesn’t have cheap hydro-power available, like we have in the Northwest.


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