United States solar installations up 41% over 3Q 2013

The United States installed 1.3 GW of solar photovoltaic (PV) capacity during the third quarter of 2014, which is up 41% over 3Q 2013, according to figures release Dec. 9 by GTM Research and the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA).

Cumulative operating PV capacity the nation has now eclipsed the 16 GW mark, according to the report. Also, for the first time ever, more than 300 MW of residential PV came on-line in a single quarter and more than 50% of residential PV came on-line without any state incentive, the groups said.

In addition, federal government figures show that 36% of all new electric generating capacity in the U.S. through the first three quarters of 2014 came from solar. That’s second only to natural gas.

Growth remains driven primarily by the utility solar PV market, which installed 825 MW in 3Q 2014, up from 540 MW in 3Q 2013.

“We forecast that PV installations will reach 6.5 GW in 2014, up 36% over 2013 and more than three times the market size of just three years ago,” GTM Research and SEIA said in their report summary.

2014 has been a time of both growth and transition for the U.S. solar market. The growth has come primarily from two segments: residential and utility scale, the groups said in the report.

The non-residential market (i.e., commercial, industrial, government and nonprofit) has essentially been flat for the second year in a row, but shows promise for a resumption of growth in 2015, driven by expansion in California and the emergence of a market in New York. Notably, 2014 is likely to be the first year of the last decade during which there is more residential PV installed than non-residential.

There are pitfalls ahead, according to GTM/SEIA.

In a little more than two years, on December 31, 2016, the 30% federal Investment Tax Credit, which has been the bedrock incentive for the U.S. solar market, is scheduled to drop to 10% for commercial projects and to zero for directly owned residential projects. Already, developers of utility-scale projects are facing a cliff in 2017 and being forced to accelerate project timelines in order meet the deadline for the 30% credit.

Extension of the ITC is SEIA’s top priority, the report notes.

“Solar advocates were dealt a blow in Wisconsin recently, as that state’s Public Service Commission voted to significantly increase fixed charges on customer bills for Wisconsin’s largest utility. This is a rare defeat for solar among early NEM- or rate-related debates, and many proceedings on the issue are still ongoing,” according to the report.

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Clean Power Plan, which orders states to implement plans to cut power sector CO2 30% by 2030, should present new opportunities for solar, according to the report.

The estimated solar PV installations during the third quarter were led by California with 642 MW followed by Nevada with 117 MW. North Carolina was third, and tops in the East, with 95 MW.

About Wayne Barber 4201 Articles
Wayne Barber, Chief Analyst for the GenerationHub, has been covering power generation, energy and natural resources issues at national publications for more than 20 years. Prior to joining PennWell he was editor of Generation Markets Week at SNL Financial for nine years. He has also worked as a business journalist at both McGraw-Hill and Financial Times Energy. Wayne also worked as a newspaper reporter for several years. During his career has visited nuclear reactors and coal mines as well as coal and natural gas power plants. Wayne can be reached at wayneb@pennwell.com.