Clean Power

Published on September 9th, 2015 | by Roy L Hales

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US Solar Capacity Now Exceeds 20 GW

September 9th, 2015 by  

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.

Amberg Renewables MN

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.

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“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.

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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.”

CPF Installers Harvey House_-92

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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About the Author

is the President of Cortes Community Radio , CKTZ 89.5 FM, where he has hosted a half hour program since 2014, and editor of the the ECOreport, a website dedicated to exploring how our lifestyle choices and technologies affect the West Coast of North America. He writes for both writes for both Clean Technica and PlanetSave on Important Media. He is a research junkie who has written over 1,600 since he was first published in 1982. Roy lives on Cortes Island, BC, Canada.



  • Chris

    Hi. For a relative newby please could someone explain “Utility PV market”. As in “The utility PV market continues to be the bedrock driver of new installation growth”. Thanks.

    • Bob_Wallace

      Residential is, fairly obviously, house roof-top solar. Smaller systems from one to a few kW of panels.

      Commercial, sometimes lumped in with residential under the categories “end-user” or “behind the meter” is large arrays on the tops of commercial buildings. Think covering the top of a large box store, warehouse or factory.

      Utility is industry-speak for solar farms. Large ground-mounted arrays which sell their power to utility companies.

      I’ll tack on a graph of installed cost for the three different categories in the US.

      The sentence “The utility PV market continues to be the bedrock driver of new installation growth” means that the largest amount of new solar installations in the US is in the utility, solar farm category.

      Most (all?) US utility solar is pre-sold to utilities. Companies that want to build a solar farm enter a contract with a utility that guarantees the utility will purchase all the farm output for 20 or 25 years. And the builder accepts a price which is usually fixed for the life of the contract, the Power Purchase Agreement (PPA). A few PPAs have an inflation clause where the price starts lower and rises over the life of the contract.

      • Chris

        Thanks for the explanation Bob, I had it all wrong in my head. Much obliged. Chris

        • Bob_Wallace

          Following your question I was wondering how the residential/commercial/utility installations were breaking down.

          Here’s the data from Greentech Media’s most recent solar report.

          • Chris

            Interesting….the apparent stasis/shrinkage in the Non-Residential category and do you have an idea why Q4 installations in the Utility category are so high compared to the other quarters? No more questions after this, promise.

          • Bob_Wallace

            On the Q4 thing, I’m just guessing. Solar farms generally take only a few months to construct and bring on line. I would guess that projects tend to get started up in the spring when the weather gets good and there’s a rush to finish and bring on line later in the year.

            Questions are fine. Good questions make people think.

          • Keanwood

            And the quote of the day is…

            “Questions are fine. Good questions make people think.”-Bob

          • Bob_Wallace

            People post to articles that are years old. Just yesterday someone went off on some fact or the other being wrong. It was right three years ago when the article was written….

  • globi

    In December 2011 Germany installed 3 GW already (3 GW in one single month).
    What’s the hold up America?

  • Ronald Brakels

    That’s 63 watts per person. The US is slowly catching up. Australia has 3 times as much per captia. (Boast, boast, but still kinda sad, considering.)

  • Aditya

    What I would really like to see is, how the generation varies/increases.
    Increasing capacities is obviously excellent as it signals mass acceptance of renewable energy and solar, but higher efficiencies herald a greater impact.
    That coupled with storage is something that can enable people to go completely off grid.

  • JamesWimberley

    The recent growth has taken place against a background of flat world prices for modules, though IIRC inverter prices have been falling. The cost reductions in the US have come in BOS. The trend fall in solar module prices will surely resume sometime in the next few years – but nobody knows when. First-tier producers have been buying large new fabs, especially for PERC, but it’s not a gold rush. Meanwhile India keeps increasing its solar ambitions. My guess is that prices won’t start to drop again for another 18 months, taking us to 2017. Don’t take my word for it.

    • Bob_Wallace

      Here’s the (just now) updated cost of residential, commercial and utility solar in the US. No spectacular price drops. I don’t expect any/much as expiring subsidies drive demand high for the next five quarters.

      • Bob_Wallace

        Adding – annual percentage price decrease from Q2 2014 to Q2 2015 –

        Utility 10.8%
        Commercial 10.9%
        Residential 6.4%

        It’s good….

  • Frank

    Some us powerplants are old. Not sure how much they are investing in them. Solar and wind reduces their competitiveness. I see on era’s site that some coal plants are slated to drop off. Hoping wind and solar grabs a chunk.

    • Mike Dill

      Money quote from article: “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.”

      • Frank

        You are absolutely right! Almost feels like starting down the first drop of a roller coaster. Not quite ludicrous mode, but some sudden acceleration.

  • Brent Jatko

    A lot of this demand increase may have been “pull-through” of sales in anticipation of the sunset of the tax credit.

    But I see costs continuing to decrease even without subsidies.

    • Bob_Wallace

      I suspect costs will drop faster without subsidies.

      Installers will want to keep their companies running and should become very aggressive cost cutters.

      • Brent Jatko

        Good point. Thanks for the reply.

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