The United States solar industry experienced its biggest first quarter ever, installing 2.7 gigawatts (GW) of new solar capacity over the first three months of the year, a 10% year-over-year increase and paving the way for what experts believe will be a year with growth of 25%.
Wood Mackenzie Power & Renewables published its quarterly US Solar Market Insight Report Tuesday in partnership with the US Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA) only a few weeks after the two celebrated the installation of the two millionth solar installation.
“The first quarter data and projections for the rest of the year are promising for the solar industry,” said Abigail Ross Hopper, president and CEO of the Solar Energy Industries Association. “However, if we are to make the kind of progress we need to make the 2020s The Solar Decade, we will need to make substantial policy and market advances.”
US PV capacity installed in the first quarter, Q1 2010 – Q1 2019 (MWdc)
Installations for the first quarter of 2019 were down 37% on the fourth quarter of 2018, but up 10% on the first quarter of 2018, representing the biggest ever first quarter for the country’s solar industry. The largest share of installations through the year’s first quarter came from the utility PV segment which installed 1.6 GW of new capacity, accounting for 61% of all new solar PV capacity installed in the quarter. With a further 4.7 GW of large-scale solar PV projects still under construction, Wood Mackenzie and the SEIA expect 2019 to be a strong year for utility PV, with growth of as much as 46%.
US Utility PV Pipeline, Q2 2019
“Voluntary procurement of utility PV based on its economic competitiveness continues to be the primary driver of projects announced in 2019,” explained Wood Mackenzie Senior Solar Analyst Colin Smith. “While many states, utilities and cities have announced or proposed 50 or 100 percent renewable energy or zero-carbon standards, the announcements have not yet resulted in an uptick in RPS-driven procurement.”
The country’s residential solar segment had a relatively modest quarter, installing 603 megawatts (MW) at an annual increase of only 6%.
“Despite steady installations in Q1 2019, the residential market is still highly reliant on legacy state markets, such as California and the Northeast, which have seen only modest to flat growth over the past several quarters,” said Wood Mackenzie Solar Analyst Austin Perea. “As these major state markets continue to grow past early-adopter consumers, higher costs of customer acquisition will challenge the industry to innovate product offerings and diversify geographically.”
Specifically, according to the report, 29% of all new residential capacity installed in the first quarter came from outside the top 10 US solar states by capacity — the highest share for emerging US states in the industry’s history.
Conversely, the country’s non-residential segment — representing commercial, industrial, and public sector distributed solar projects — was down on both a quarterly and annual basis, installing only 438 MW of new capacity due largely to state-level policy reform in traditionally sector strong markets such as California, Massachusetts, and Minnesota. However, Wood Mackenzie and the SEIA expects new community solar mandates in New York, Maryland, Illinois, and New Jersey to reinvigorate the non-residential segment starting next year.
Over the next five years the US solar industry is expected to more than double total installed US solar PV capacity, with annual installations of 16.4 GW by 2021 before the expiration of the residential federal Investment Tax Credit (ITC) and a drop in the commercial tax credit to 10% for projects not yet under construction.