Solar was more than half of all U.S. electricity capacity added in Q1 — here’s how it happened

U.S. solar electric capacity

Showing resiliency in spite of the new tariffs on imported modules, the U.S. solar market added 2.5 gigawatts of solar PV in the first quarter of the year, representing annual growth of 13 percent (and a 37% quarter-over-quarter decrease), according to the latest U.S. Solar Market Insight Report from GTM Research and the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA).

Solar PV accounted for 55 percent of all U.S. electricity capacity added during the quarter and added more than two gigawatts for the 10th straight quarter, the study said.

Overall, the report estimates that solar’s growth in 2018 will mirror 2017’s 10.6 GW before growing more robustly in 2019 and then accelerating in the early 2020s.

FIGURE: New U.S. Electricity Generating Capacity Additions, 2010-Q1 2018

GTM solar energy market insight

Source: GTM Research / SEIA U.S. Solar Market Insight, Q2 2018.

“The solar industry had a strong showing in the first quarter,” said SEIA President and CEO Abigail Ross Hopper. “This data shows that solar has become a common-sense option for much of the U.S. and is too strong to be set back for long, even in light of the tariffs. States from California to Florida have stepped up with smart policies that will drive investment for years to come.”

According to the report, the solar industry installed 1.4 gigawatts of utility-scale PV in Q1, the 10th consecutive gigawatt-scale quarter for the U.S.’s largest solar market segment.

RELATED: Install more solar with our Attack the Tariff tips

Will this sustain?

GTM Research said utility-scale solar projects thus far have been relatively insulated from tariffs but analysts expect the tariffs to have a bigger impact on the segment in 2019. However, they forecast growth for the market. The report increased the forecast for utility-scale solar to 6.6 GW in 2018. That’s slightly higher than the 6.47 GW predicted in March.

While voluntary procurement by utilities is the largest driver of utility-scale PV, corporate procurement/offsite commercial and industrial now accounts for 2.0 GWdc, or 10%, of projects in development.

Non-residential continues to rise

Coming off its largest quarter ever, non-residential PV fell 34% quarter-over-quarter, despite posting 23% year-over-year growth. But the non-residential segment still posted its fourth-highest installation total ever, with 509 megawatts installed. Regulatory demand pull-in from looming policy deadlines in California and the Northeast is a leading growth factor.

The other growth silo is community solar. Minnesota alone added more than 100 MW of community solar in Q1. The report says the U.S. has now surpassed 1 cumulative GW of community solar capacity.

Residential stays flat

New additions of residential PV remained flat quarter-over-quarter and year-over-year in Q1 2018, following a 15 percent contraction in 2017.

“This is a promising indicator that constraints to residential PV growth like segment-wide customer acquisition challenges and national installer pullback are abating,” GTM Senior Analyst Austin Perea said. “However, these problems are not entirely solved, as we’re seeing slowdowns in states with a relatively high penetration of PV installations.”

The report notes that three of the top five residential solar markets in 2017 — Maryland, New Jersey, and New York — are expected to contract in 2018 for a second consecutive year as a function of the persistent customer-acquisition challenges.

“The decline in some major state markets will be offset by growth in emerging markets,” Perea said.

Florida having its moment

GTM Research and SEIA highlighted Florida as a standout state in this quarter’s edition of the report. Florida added more solar than it did in all of 2016, the second most capacity after California and the first time ever that it was ranked among the top 5 for quarterly installations.

Forecast brightens a bit

GTM Research anticipates the U.S. market in aggregate will be flat this year. The U.S. market can again expect to see growth exceeding 10 percent in the early 2020s, driven in part by California’s recently announced policy requiring solar on all new homes. The report forecasts that within five years, California’s new home solar market alone will be larger than the No. 2 state residential solar market, New Jersey, by 100 MW.

Total installed U.S. PV capacity is expected to more than double over the next five years. By 2023, more than 14 GW of solar will be installed annually.

Download the report’s free executive summary here.

— Solar Builder magazine

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