The US solar market installed nearly 15 gigawatts of new solar capacity in 2016, breaking its own record by nearly doubling the previous year’s capacity installations and becoming the leading source of new electric generating capacity in the US, while setting the stage for what analysts expect could be a tripling over the next five years.
According to new figures published today by GTM Research and the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA), the US solar market installed a total of 14,762 megawatts (MW) of solar PV in 2016 — nearly doubling (97%) the 7,501 MW installed in 2015. The new US Solar Market Insight 2016 Year-in-Review report shows that the 2016 growth was driven primarily by the sector’s utility PV segment, which installed more capacity in 2016 than the entire sector installed in 2015, with 10,593 MW.
For the first time ever, solar represented the largest new source of electricity generating capacity brought online in 2016, with 39% of the total share of new capacity.
“It would be hard to overstate how impressive 2016 was for the solar industry,” said Abigail Ross Hopper, SEIA’s president and CEO. “Prices dropped to all-time lows, installations expanded in states across the country and job numbers soared. The bottom line is that more people are benefiting from solar now than at any point in the past, and while the market is changing, the broader trend over the next five years is going in one direction – and that’s up.”
And it looks as if 2017 is going to be another big year, though not as big as 2016. According to the figures, 2017 is likely to see a still-impressive 13.2 GW installed across the US — ironically, the dip falling mainly at the feet of the utility sector, which seems somewhat spent after a big 2016.
“Though utility PV will reset from an origination perspective starting in 2017-2018, distributed solar is largely expected to continue to grow over the next few years due to rapid system cost declines and a growing number of states reaching grid parity,” said Corey Honeyman, Associate Director of GTM Research. “That said, ongoing NEM and rate design battles – in conjunction with a declining incentive environment for non-residential PV – will continue to present risks to distributed solar growth.”
Over the next five years, GTM and the SEIA are predicting the US solar capacity to triple, with more than 18 GW expected to be brought online annually by 2022.
It is unlikely that the utility-scale solar PV segment will surpass 10 GW again until 2021, given just how unusually strong 2016 was. Nevertheless, 2017 will still see a significant amount of utility-scale solar brought online due to 2016 spillover. The only question left to be answered will be just how strong the utility-scale segment will be in 2018 and 2019, and whether the pipeline can be replenished enough to see those years see strong growth.
The residential market cooled somewhat compared to the record growth rates of previous years, growing only 19% in 2016, installing 2,583 MW. The non-residential segment saw its highest growth rate in years, up 49% over 2015, installing 1,586 MW.
22 US states installed more than 100 MW in 2016 — not bad, considering that only two states installed over 100 MW back in 2010. Interestingly, the growth across states was driven by diversification across market segments. In South Carolina and Texas, major growth was driven by the residential sector. In Georgia, Minnesota, and Utah, growth was in the utility sector. California remained the country’s largest state market, but its total share of the US solar market fell to 35%, the state’s lowest share since 2012. California can rest easy, however, as its share will only continue to fall due to the aggressive growth in other states.
While each of the solar segments will fluctuate over the next few years, GTM and the SEIA believe that by 2019, each of the US solar market segments will return to year-over-year growth, and by 2022, 24 US states will be home to more than 1 GW of operating solar PV — up from only 9 in 2016.
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