Solar hits No. 1 source of new electric generating additions, doubles own install record in 2016

The solar industry will continue to be tough to ignore politically if it keeps posting numbers like this: the United States solar market nearly doubled its annual record, topping out at 14,625 MW of solar PV installed in 2016, according to a sneak peek at the U.S. Solar Market Insight report from GTM Research and the Solar Energy Industries Association. This is a 95 percent increase over the previous record of 7,493 MW installed in 2015.

For the first time ever, U.S. solar ranked as the No. 1 source of new electric generating capacity additions on an annual basis. In total, solar accounted for 39 percent of new capacity additions across all fuel types in 2016.

solar industry installations record

Utility boom leads the way

As we’ve noted before, these big numbers are coming via big installs. Success this year was driven largely by the utility-scale segment, which was bolstered by a pipeline of projects initially hedging against the extension of the federal Investment Tax Credit. Not only did it represent the most megawatts installed, but the utility-scale segment also featured the highest growth rate of any segment, growing 145 percent from 2015.

“In a banner year for U.S. solar, a record 22 states each added more than 100 megawatts,” said Cory Honeyman, GTM Research’s associate director of U.S. solar research. “While U.S. solar grew across all segments, what stands out is the double digit gigawatt boom in utility-scale solar, primarily due to solar’s cost competitiveness with natural gas alternatives.”

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The non-residential market also exceeded expectations with two major growth drivers in the segment. The first is community solar, adding a record total of more than 200 megawatts, led by Minnesota and Massachusetts. Second, rate design and net energy metering fueled a rush in project development and installation growth across a number of major state markets, most notably in California.

For the first time since 2011, non-residential installation growth surpassed residential solar growth, which posted a still-impressive 2,583 megawatts. While growth in California’s residential market has begun to level out, strong growth in markets like Maryland, New Jersey and a handful of emerging states where solar has achieved grid parity, helped the residential segment to grow 19 percent year-over-year.

As a result of a remarkable 2016, the U.S. is now home to more than 1.3 million solar PV installations with a cumulative capacity of over 40 gigawatts.

— Solar Builder magazine

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