U.S. solar installations have almost tripled in 3 years — study

Source: Daniel Cusick, E&E reporter • Posted: Tuesday, September 9, 2014

U.S. solar photovoltaic installations continued at a brisk pace in the second quarter of 2014, with 1,133 megawatts of new capacity coming online in the utility, commercial and residential sectors, according to data released Friday by the Solar Energy Industries Association and GTM Research.

The second-quarter growth, while down 16 percent from the first quarter, was the fourth largest in the industry’s history and marks the third consecutive quarter that U.S. firms have installed more than 1 gigawatt of new solar generation, according to the latest industry data. Residential and commercial installations accounted for nearly half of all new solar PV for the quarter, “and its momentum shows no signs of slowing down,” SEIA and GTM Research said of the findings.

The industry also passed a major milestone in the second quarter with more than a half-million homes and businesses generating electricity from the sun, according to the latest “U.S. Solar Market Insight” report.

“With new sources of capital being unlocked, design and engineering innovations reducing system prices, and sales channels rapidly diversifying, the solar market is quickly gaining steam to drive significant growth for the next few years,” Shayle Kann, senior vice president of GTM Research, said in a statement announcing the findings.

Industry analysts project that PV installations will reach 6.5 GW for 2014, a 36 percent increase over 2013 and more than three times the market size just three years ago, according to GTM Research. The industry’s largest quarter to date was the fourth quarter of 2013, when it added 2.1 GW of capacity.

For the first six months of the year, California remained the leading state for total solar installations, followed by New Jersey, Arizona, North Carolina, Massachusetts, Texas and New York. Nationwide, cumulative PV and concentrating solar power capacity now exceeds 15.9 GW, enough to power more than 3.2 million homes, the groups said.

Moving ahead of new gas and wind energy

Moreover, solar accounted for 53 percent of all new electricity generation added in the United States for the first half of the year, followed by natural gas at 30 percent and wind power at 14 percent. By contrast, coal-fired electricity saw no growth during the January-June period, and coal’s share of total U.S. electricity generation is expected to continue to shrink as utilities retire coal-fired units due to economic or regulatory pressures.

While rooftop PV, installed primarily as distributed generation systems, has experienced phenomenal growth in recent years, SEIA and GTM Research found “the primary backbone of U.S. demand continues to be utility PV.”

More than 10 GW of utility PV was spawned by power purchase agreements between 2010 and 2012, driven by state renewable portfolio standards, the report states. “This contracted pipeline is finally becoming realized, and the outlook for utility PV remains stronger than ever.”

Concentrating solar power (CSP) is also expected to see record growth in 2014, with an expected 857 MW of new capacity coming online by year’s end. The first three months of the year saw more than 500 MW of CSP completed at two facilities in Southern California.

Rhone Resch, SEIA’s executive director, said in a statement that the solar industry is now a $15 billion economic sector employing more than 140,000 U.S. workers. He attributed its “remarkable growth” in recent years to a variety of factors, including declining manufacturing and installation costs as well as “smart and effective public policies” such as the solar investment tax credit, net metering and state renewable portfolio standards.

“By any measure, these policies are paying huge dividends for both the U.S. economy and the environment, and they should be maintained, if not expanded, given their tremendous success, as well as their importance to America’s future,” Resch said.