NextEra and Southern Company Rank as Largest Solar Owners Outside China

Oct 4, 2019 10:32 PM ET
NextEra and Southern Company Rank as Largest Solar Owners Outside China
NextEra Energy is the largest owner of solar PV capacity outside China, in a “highly fragmented” global market, according to a new ranking from Wood Mackenzie.

NextEra has long dominated the U.S. wind market, where its 15-gigawatt base of installed capacity is nearly twice the size of No. 2 Berkshire Hathaway Energy’s wind fleet. But unlike some of the other big U.S. wind developers, NextEra has pivoted aggressively toward solar in recent years, taking advantage of the falling cost of PV and the solar industry’s favorable incentive treatment compared to wind.

NextEra now owns nearly 4.4 gigawatts of solar capacity, more than any other operator outside China, Wood Mackenzie says.

NextEra’s early and hugely successful push into renewables has helped it become the largest U.S. electric utility by market capitalization, its $112 billion valuation now overshadowing peers like Duke Energy, Dominion Resources and Southern Company.

But those other utilities are also investing heavily in renewables, and WoodMac ranks Atlanta-based Southern Company as the second-largest owner of solar capacity outside China, with 2.6 gigawatts to its name.

Southern Company owns renewables plants both through its regulated utilities and its unregulated generation arm, Southern Power.

Third on WoodMac’s solar-ownership ranking is India’s Acme Group, at 2.3 gigawatts, followed closely by the 2.2 gigawatts owned by Italy’s Enel Green Power — the only Europe-based company in the top 10. More than 80 percent of Enel Green Power’s solar capacity is located in the Americas.

Another Indian player, Adani, made the list with 1.9 gigawatts of capacity.

All told, the top 10 owners account for less than 7 percent of total capacity in the market, said Wood Mackenzie solar analyst Rishab Shrestha. “Fragmentation will continue as barriers to entry remain low and annual solar installations continue to grow.”

In the U.S. — the second-largest solar market outside China — independent generators, and particularly those affiliated with larger utility groups, tend to be the largest solar owners. Institutional investors play a larger role in Europe, though the evolution of the market toward riskier merchant deals could change that. 

“Such assets may be less attractive to risk-averse institutional investors,” noted senior analyst Tom Heggarty. “We could see a greater role for large utilities, which will be more comfortable with exposure to wholesale power price risks.”

As the global solar market matures, it is seeing more big asset sales, with nearly 22 gigawatts changing hands last year, WoodMac said.

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