The first four months of 2016 are a triumph for the US solar industry. Fully 1.7 gigawatts of solar power came online in the first quarter—that’s not just 64 percent of all new electric generation in the country—it’s more electric generation than the combined total of coal, natural gas and nuclear that came online in the period. Only wind at 33 percent of new energy installations in the US, came close.
The figures are from the U.S. Solar Market Insight, Q2 2016 by GTM Research and the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA), which found that 1,665 megawatts of new solar power came online in the first quarter. That’s more than 300 megawatts more than last year’s first quarter, which saw 1.3 gigawatts of new solar generation installed and a record for the first quarter.
It’s the latest great news for an industry that’s been one of the nation’s biggest jobs creators in the past few years and has seen the most growth in the energy sector—going from over 4 gigawatts in 2010 to 27.5 gigawatts by the end of 2015. In fact, earlier this year the solar industry celebrated reaching 1 million installations in the US.
“While it took us 40 years to hit 1 million U.S. solar installations, we’re expected to hit 2 million within the next two years,” said Tom Kimbis, SEIA’s interim president. “The solar industry is growing at warp speed, driven by the fact that solar is one of the lowest cost options for electricity and it’s being embraced by people who both care about the environment and want access to affordable and reliable electricity.”
It might sound incredible but the numbers support it. While the country installed a record 7.5 gigawatts of solar power in 2015, it’s now expected to install 14.5 gigawatts of solar power in 2016 an increase of 94 percent, according to GTM.
Previously the quarterly insight report had predicted 16 gigawatts of new solar power coming online in 2016. However, the previous report came shortly after the announcement of the Investment Tax Credit (ITC) extension, which allows project developers to take more time to install and plan projects. So some projects that were slated for completion in 2016 to meet the original ITC deadline will now wait a little longer.
The report anticipated that the majority of new installations—10 gigawatts—in 2016 will come from utility-scale projects, with 4.5 gigawatts finishing construction in the fourth quarter and commencing operation in early 2017.
Commercial-scale solar power, like carports and warehouse rooftops also is seeing a revival. The report found that in each of the last two quarters this segment of the solar industry saw more than 300 megawatts of new solar installations.
“Over the past six months, the non-residential PV segment has shown glimpses of a market that can grow across a more diverse set of project development opportunities,” said Cory Honeyman, GTM Research’s associate director of U.S. Solar. “While a number of policy- and customer-driven bottlenecks continue to challenge the market, a handful of state policies established over the past half year should unlock new customer-sited and offsite development, with Fortune 500 corporate customers playing a key role in supporting the market’s rebound.”
Given the ITC extension the 2017 and 2018 will still be great years for solar power but they will not see as much growth as 2016 will. However, by 2019 all segments of the solar industry are expected to continue to see year over year growth, according to the report. “By 2021, more than half of all states in the U.S. will be 100+ MWdc annual solar markets, bringing cumulative U.S. solar installations above the 100 GWdc mark,” according to the report’s executive summary.Tweet