US Solar PV Market In 2014, Utility And California Soar

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The US Solar PV Market had a phenomenal run in 2014. According to data released yesterday by the Solar Energy Industries Association and GTM Research — 6 GW of new capacity was added during the last year, taking the cumulative PV installations tally to 18.3 GW!

That’s a growth of 30% over the previous year, representing nearly $18 billion in new investment. By the end of 2014, 20 states have reached the 100 MW mark for cumulative operating PV installations, with California alone boasting a humongous 8.7 GW.

Before we dive into the performance of each market segment, consider this: In 2014, for the first time in history, each of the three market segments — utility, commercial and residential — installed more than 1 GW of PV.

Non-Residential PV Installations In 2014

While compared to the residential market, the non-residential segment did not have such a good year. Even though 1,036 MW capacity was added in 2014, this was a 6% reduction from 2013.

Towards the end of the year, the non-residential market did try to make up with a jump of 28% in fourth quarter of 2014, versus the third quarter. The GTM report states that the non-residential market has proven much harder to scale, and has been much more sensitive to incentive reduction, than the residential market. If one compares the performance of the states, Massachusetts, New York, California, and Maryland showed good performance, as against, significant downturns in New Jersey, Arizona, and Hawaii.

Utility PV Installations In 2014

As has been, the base demand load of the US solar market continues to come from utility scale installations. In 2014, 3,934 MW was installed in this segment, up 38% from 2013 and accounting for 63% of all PV capacity brought on-line during the year.

This included the two mammoth projects — Topaz Solar and Desert Sunlight — both 550 MW, and currently the world’s largest, expected to come online this year.

The GTM report also points out that the utility PV segment is becoming more competitive. More than 4 GW of centralized PV capacity had been procured by utilities based on solar’s competitiveness with natural-gas alternatives.

California — Centre Of The US Solar Universe

Once again, California has stood ahead as the largest residential market in the US, with over half a gigawatt of installations added during the year, a first for the US. This also meant that the rebate funding offered by the California Solar Initiative was fully depleted for residential installations!

Cities in Southern California That Installed 1 MW or More of Residential PV Annually, 2010-2014

More than 70 towns and cities in Southern California added at least 1 MW of residential solar in 2014, a milestone that only 22 cities had achieved two years prior.

Above-average electricity bill hikes also helped the cause. In the summer of 2014, the CPUC approved retail rate hikes for customers of IOU utilities who use less energy. This only meant that the pool of customers deciding to go solar and save 10% to 20% on their monthly bills expanded.

Other factors in favor of California include easier over-the-counter permitting processes and standardizing financing and installation solutions.

2015 is expected to be another good year, though there are concerns that the aggregate net energy metering capacity limit could be reached by the last quarter of 2015 or early 2016. As a result, installers are pushing to expedite sales through the first half of 2015.

Once the cap is reached, the next version of NEM is scheduled to take effect, although decisions regarding NEM rule revisions could be announced by the CPUC as late as December 2015.

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Anand Upadhyay

is a Fellow with The Energy and Resources Institute (TERI, New Delhi). He tweets at @indiasolarpost. Views and opinion if any, are his own.

Anand Upadhyay has 95 posts and counting. See all posts by Anand Upadhyay