Originally published on the ECOreport.
The US residential solar market grew 70% during the first half of 2015. Thanks to the addition of another 729 MW of utility-scale solar during the second quarter, the nation has installed more than 1 GW of PV for the last 7 quarters. According to the Solar Energy Industry Association’s (SEIA’s) latest US Market Insight Report, US solar power capacity now exceeds 20 GW.
The Pace Picks Up
SEIA claims that 40% of these projects were picked up because of “solar’s economic competitiveness with fossil-fuel alternatives” and predicts the US will install 7.7 GW by the end of this year, with the most rapid development occurring in the residential sector.
“The demand for solar energy is now higher than ever and this report spells out how crucial it is for America to maintain smart, effective, forward-looking public policies, like the ITC, beyond 2016,” said Rhone Resch, SEIA President and CEO. “At over 20 GW of installed solar electric capacity, we now have enough solar in the U.S. to power 4.6 million homes, reducing harmful carbon emissions by more than 25 million metric tons a year. Since the ITC was passed in 2006, U.S. solar growth has exploded and more than 150,000 American solar jobs have been created. By any measurement, that’s a success for both our economy and environment.”
“The utility PV market continues to be the bedrock driver of new installation growth. And in the second half of this year through 2016, growth will reach new heights as a higher share of what comes online stems from projects procured purely based on centralized solar’s cost competitiveness,” said Shayle Kann, Senior Vice President at GTM Research.
Half of this solar deployment is in California, which now has 10.2 GW of capacity. North Carolina is the only other state to have crossed the 1 GW threshold. These two states, together with Nevada, New York, and Massachusetts, account for nearly three-fourths of cumulative US PV installations. 21 States presently have more than 100 MW of capacity and, during the course of the next decade, the solar revolution is expected to reach the rest of the nation.
In its executive summary, SEIA depicts solar development over the next decade occurring in three stages.
Stage 1 (Today-2016):
“The first stage, which extends through the end of 2016, will bring an unprecedented boom in solar installations. Across all segments and most state markets, improved project economics, low interest rates, insulation from incentive reduction and the rush to complete projects ahead of the ITC step-down will accelerate an already-growing market to new heights. Between July 2015 and December 2016, the U.S. solar PV market is expected to add 18 GWdc, which would exceed cumulative installations through the first half of 2014.”
Stage 2 (2017-2019):
“Assuming no ITC extension, the second stage contains the most uncertainty in our forecast period. Five macro factors will be at play, pushing the market in different directions.
◦ “First, the ITC rush of 2016 will be over, and project pipelines for commercial and utility-scale developers will be lighter. Some projects that were intended for 2016 may spill over into 2017, but we anticipate a dearth of new larger-scale projects at the beginning of stage 2
◦ “Second, project economics will be significantly tighter as a result of ITC reduction (to 10% for commercial, utility and third-party owned residential, and to zero for host-owned residential).
◦ “Third, interest rates could conceivably rise during this period, putting upward pressure on the cost of capital for solar projects.
◦ “Fourth, the Clean Power Plan will not yet have taken full effect. The first compliance date for the CPP is 2022, but the rule issued by the EPA includes a Clean Energy Incentive Program intended to support renewable energy installations in 2020 and 2021. One unintended consequence of this program, if it is left unchanged, is that states may design their policies to support solar/wind installations in those years, even at the expense of earlier years (2017-2019), since those earlier installations won’t receive the same credit.
◦ “Finally, despite these headwinds, solar project costs will continue to fall and increasingly large pockets of demand will remain open. The overall market may decline substantially year-over-year in 2017, but growth from the new, smaller smaller base will resume thereafter.”
Stage 3 (2020-2025):
“The third stage will usher in a new era of growth for solar in the U.S. The beginning of the Clean Power Plan (CPP) compliance era will incentivize states to support (directly or indirectly) the solar market. Meanwhile, project costs will be significantly below today’s levels, placing solar on a strong competitive playing field with both retail electricity and alternative sources of wholesale generation. Much of the uncertainty from stage 2 will have been settled, and market participants will experience a more extended period of consistent expansion. Most notably, this period will also likely be the time during which solar in the U.S. truly becomes a 50-state market, as the combination of CPP compliance and improving project economics will open up state markets that historically have seen very limited solar development.”
(Image Credits: Amberg Renewables – Courtesy AllEarth Renewables; US PV Installations 2010-Q2 2015 – Courtesy SEIA; CPF installers Harvey House – Courtesy Clean Power Finance: Mike Stough; Utility PV Pipeline – Courtesy SEIA)
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