In 2021, the U.S. installed more solar than ever before – with one out of every 600 U.S. homeowners installing solar each quarter! And impressively, more than half of those additions came from utility-scale projects. The companies that build these projects aren’t the same type of installers you receive quotes from on EnergySage – while they technically install projects like residential solar companies, we in the industry most often refer to them as solar developers.
In this article, we’ll give you a quick overview of solar developers, the role they play in the solar industry, and highlight some of the top solar developers today.
- Solar developers play a key role in the solar industry
- Solar developers install larger projects than the average solar installation company, including utility-scale solar, commercial and industrial (C&I) solar, and community solar farms
- There are many steps involved with creating a large-scale solar project
What is a solar developer?
Simply put, solar developers are companies that build and install large solar projects. And by large, we mean…well, large. The average residential solar panel system is about 10 kilowatts (kW); in comparison, solar developers often work on projects that are multiple megawatts (MW, 1 MW = 1,000 kW), and involve hundreds or thousands of solar panels.
Generally, solar developer projects can be broken down into three separate categories:
- Utility-scale solar: solar power plants built to generate electricity for our power grid
- Community solar farms: solar projects built for local community solar subscription programs
- Commercial and industrial (C&I) solar: solar panel systems built for large businesses
Solar developer responsibilities
Installing projects at this scale isn’t as easy as putting solar panels on your home; in fact, many larger solar projects take years to build and get up and running. That’s not just because of the extra equipment and installation requirements – solar developers need to specialize in a few other areas to implement a successful project.
The first thing you need to install a big solar project? Land to build it on. Solar developers work directly with landowners to find the perfect spot for a solar project. And there’s a lot of consideration that goes into this step – you can’t plop thousands of solar panels anywhere.
In addition to signing a lease agreement with the landowner, developers and their engineers need to ensure that they have easy access to utility infrastructure, that the land is flat enough and has good sun exposure, and the site isn’t located on (or in close proximity to) a floodplain or wetlands. Following site surveys and a potential environmental review of the project, developers need to also work with local governments to secure necessary permits to start construction.
Just as you might obtain a solar loan to finance your home solar installation, developers work with investors, banks, and other lenders to solicit the financing they need to build and maintain a project.
Don’t be fooled by the analogy we made earlier: securing financing for a large-scale solar project is, unsurprisingly, more involved than taking out a loan for a residential solar installation. To obtain financing, developers typically need to prove the financial viability of the project and demonstrate how they–or their investors–will make a profit. Financing for large-scale solar projects also often comes in at different stages of development, rather than all at once.
Engineering, procurement, and construction (EPC)
Engineering, procurement, and construction, often referred to by the shorthand EPC, basically covers the bulk of the actual construction process for a utility-scale, C&I, or community solar installation. A lot of steps fit under this umbrella, including project design, obtaining equipment and labor to build the system, and installing all the components necessary to get the project up and running. Some developers outsource these responsibilities to an EPC-specific company, while others handle it in-house.
Top five solar developers in the U.S.
Now that we’ve covered the basics of what a solar developer is, here are the top solar developers in the U.S., according to installed capacity in 2020:
Swinerton Renewable Energy (Now Solv Energy)
SOLV Energy is a solar developer headquartered in San Diego, California. The company was founded in 2008, since building over 8 GW of solar energy projects across the U.S. They’ve powered over 1.5 million homes over 521 sites as of 2021.
Blattner Energy is a solar energy developer located in Minnesota, which has grown from a company with an over 100-year history. They’ve delivered over 400 energy projects across North America inclusive of solar, wind, and energy storage.
Moss, based in Florida, is a national construction management company providing innovative solutions inclusive of solar EPC, transportation infrastructure, sustainable design, and other specialties. They’ve cited huge growth over recent years, reaching up to 2 GW of constructed projects per year as of 2021.
Mortenson is another Minneapolis-based company. They have over 10 years of experience with 79 projects across 17 states as of 2021 focusing on solar, EV infrastructure, energy storage, wind, and other renewable sustainable innovation.
Sun Solar is an Arizona-based solar developer that launched in 2010 and has since created 2.5 GW of energy through projects across the U.S. They provide turn-key solutions for solar posts, racking, and modules.
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