US solar panel installations climbed to a record 1.3 GW in the first quarter of 2014, according the SEIA quarterly report.
Solar PV installations jumped 79% from the first quarter of 2013, when 744 MW were added. Only 2013 Q4 had more installations, with 2.1 GW, GTM Research and SEIA’s US Solar Market Insights analysis said. If you scroll through the history of solar installations, you can see that it’s common for the 4th quarter to have more installation capacity than the next quarter, so this is nothing to worry about. Current capacity now sits at 13.40 GW.
Utility solar power plants led new generated capacity with 873 MW, more than doubling last year’s (322 MW in 2013 Q1).
However, an intriguing story line from the latest report is residential installations outpacing commercial for the first time (232 MW to 225 MW).
Improving leasing options, allowing solar companies to offer solar installations for close to nothing, is helping to improve the residential market. A recent conference attended by policymakers and industry officials looked at improving third-party lending for future growth.
Shayle Kann of GTM Research told Bloomberg that residential solar has “nowhere to go but up” as “the economics just keep getting better.”
On the other end, harsh winter weather hit commercial installations hard in many East Coast US states, including New Jersey, which finished second in overall new capacity with 64 MW. California topped the overall state solar PV market list with 959 MW. Arizona was third at 52 MW. Commercial installations should pick up and beat residential markets on an overall annual basis, the report said.
New solar pv installations should reach 6.6 GW in 2014. Residential markets will see 61% growth, while non-residential and utilities will see 41% and 32% increases respectively.
The last key point in taking in this report is solar’s ongoing rise of generating new capacity compared to other forms of energy. Solar led this quarter with 74% of new electric generating capacity. Wind was second with 20%. Natural Gas was third with 4%. Geothermal and other energy forms round out the list with 1% each (see graph below).
Compare the numbers from Q1 of 2013, when solar captured 49%. This shows a 25% increase on a year-to-year basis. While wind energy has provided 30% of the new electric US generated capacity within the past five years, solar is starting to take over top spot often. Falling prices will continue to help attract more investors to solar, as seen recently with Capital One’s investment in SolarCity.
Overall, is US Solar Market Insight projections of 6.6 GW of new installed capacity reasonable for 2014? If prices continue to fall, home solar markets remain strong, and strong climate policy from the White House on the agenda remains, overall solar capacity reaching 20 GW in the US is not out of the realm soon.