U.S. solar installations break record in 3Q 2016

AEC is building a 1.37 megawatt community solar installation

AEC is building a 1.37 megawatt community solar installation. A recent report from the Solar Energy Industries Association points to an “unprecedented rate of project completion” in the utility-scale segment as a key growth driver for solar.

The solar industry in the United States installed nearly 2 Megawatts of solar per hour in the third quarter of 2016. — that’s enough energy production to power about 328 homes.

4,143 megawatts (MW) of solar PV were installed in the U.S. in the third quarter of the year, a rate of one MW every 32 minutes, according to GTM Research and the Solar Energy Industries Association’s (SEIA) Q4 2016 U.S. Solar Market Insight report. That record won’t stand for long, though, because the organization estimates Q4 production will be even higher.

The report points to an “unprecedented rate of project completion” in the utility-scale segment as a key growth driver.

Utilities, particularly in the Southeast, continue to seek additional solar assets for their portfolio as a hedge against natural gas prices, researchers said. Procurement via the Public Utility Regulatory Policies Act is expected to overtake Renewable Portfolio Standards  as the largest driver of solar in 2017 as developers leverage avoided cost rates in North and South Carolina, Oregon and Utah.

State rankings

Mississippi ranked 39th in solar installations in Q3 2016, was ranked 38th in 2015 and is currently 40th in cumulative solar installations among all US states.

South Carolina ranked 20th in solar installations in Q3 2016, was ranked 37th in all of 2015 and 28th in cumulative solar installations overall.

Tennessee ranked 25th in solar installations in the third quarter of this year, was ranked 31st in 2015 and is currently ranked 22nd in cumulative solar installations.

“Coming off our largest quarter ever and with an extremely impressive pipeline ahead, it’s safe to say the state of the solar industry here in America is strong,” said Tom Kimbis, SEIA’s interim president, in a press release. “The solar market now enjoys an economically-winning hand that pays off both financially and environmentally, and American taxpayers have noticed. With a 90 percent favorability rating and 209,000 plus jobs, the U.S. solar industry has proven that when you combine smart policies with smart 21st century technology, consumers and businesses both benefit.”

Annual U.S. Solar PV Installations, Q2 2010-Q2 2016

Annual U.S. Solar PV Installations, Q2 2010-Q2 2016. Source: GTM Research / SEIA U.S. Solar Market Insight Report

Non-residential solar posted its second-best quarter ever, according to the report, largely due to a surge in the popularity of community solar projects, which accounted for 20 percent of the non-residential PV market.

Homeowners are also continuing to pursue the value benefit of solar — this marks the sixth consecutive quarter in which more than a half GW of residential PV was installed. While some markets, like California that were early adopters, have slowed the pace of installations, others, including South Carolina, are ramping up as consumers benefit from falling solar materials costs and additional state or utility solar energy installation incentives in addition to the federal solar Investment Tax Credit (ITC) of 30 percent.

A mere three years ago, the United States eclipsed 10 cumulative GW of PV installed. By the end of 2016, GTM Research forecasts the United States to install 14.1 GW this year alone, up 88 percent over 2015’s total.