Here’s why residential solar is down more than expected in Q3 2017

residential solar installation

Despite more than half of U.S states now being at grid parity — meaning the levelized cost of energy is below electricity bill savings in year 1 of system life — the U.S. residential segment posted its lowest solar installation total since the first quarter of 2015, according to the latest U.S. Solar Market Insight report, GTM Research and the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA).

The residential PV sector fell 10 percent quarter-over-quarter. Declining growth is driven by weakness in California and major Northeast markets, which continue to feel the impact of pull-back from national providers.

The report attributes the slowdown to two key factors: persistent nationwide customer acquisition challenges and a pivot by major solar installers that are pursuing profitable sales channels over growth. This has been particularly acute in mature markets that account for the majority of installation volumes.

Several markets, however, experienced record quarters for the residential solar segment. These include New Mexico, Washington D.C., Virginia and Idaho. Meanwhile, emerging markets, such as Florida and Pennsylvania, are expected to surpass 50 MW of residential capacity for the first time ever this year.

“The year 2017 has been unconventional for solar in the sense that utility and residential PV, which have historically been the market’s major growth segments, are actually expected to decline in 2017,” said GTM Research Solar Analyst Austin Perea. “For utility PV this is largely a function of comparing the record-breaking ITC demand-pull in effect of 2016 to more modest build-out in 2017, while significant customer acquisition issues remain a challenge for residential solar. Conversely, non-residential solar, the smallest and most historically beleaguered sector, is expected to grow in 2017 in large part due to robust community solar build-out and regulatory demand pull-in across major state markets.”

— Solar Builder magazine

7 solar install stats to know from third quarter 2017 report from GTM Research, SEIA

PV installations 2017

In their latest U.S. Solar Market Insight report, GTM Research and the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA) said prices rose due to a tight global supply of modules and uncertainty around the Section 201 trade case now being weighed at the White House. What effect did this have on installations across solar segments? These numbers jumped out at us.

2,031 MW

That’s the number of megawatts of PV installed in the U.S. in the third quarter of the year — the eighth consecutive quarter that the solar industry added more than 2 GW. The capacity additions represent a 51 percent drop year over year.

10 percent.

That’s how much the residential PV sector fell quarter-over-quarter. Declining growth is driven by weakness in California and major Northeast markets, which continue to feel the impact of pull-back from national providers. More on that here.

22 percent.

That’s how much the industry is down compared to this point last year, which is in line with the expected 21% decline for all of 2016 vs all of 2017.

11.8 GWdc.

That’s how much new PV GTM Research estimates will come online in 2017, down 22% from a record-breaking 2016. The forecast has been adjusted downward from 12.4 GW last quarter to reflect continued challenges in the residential market and a push back in utility-scale completion timelines due to uncertainties surrounding the trade case.

22 percent.

Get this: That’s how much non-residential grew year-over-year, installing 481 MW in Q3. Non-residential consists of commercial and industrial businesses that install solar, nonprofits, and community solar programs. California, Massachusetts and New York all posted strong quarters while Minnesota had its largest quarter ever due to its robust community solar program. Nationwide, community solar capacity is on track to grow by more than 50 percent year-over-year.

utility scale solar installation

51 percent.

That was the utility-scale segment’s piece of of the quarter’s installed capacity pie. The utility-scale segment was led by Nevada, North Carolina and Texas. In fact, Texas installed more solar in the third quarter of this year than the state installed in the entirety of 2015. Meanwhile, emerging markets in the Southeast, including Florida, Mississippi, and South Carolina all had strong quarters and are forecast to install more solar in 2017 than any year previously.

4 GW.

Encouragingly, that’s how much utility-scale PV is currently under construction across the nation, and GTM Research forecasts an additional 3.9 GW will come on-line by the end of the year. This would make 2017 the second largest year ever for solar installations behind only the record-shattering 2016.

“Looking forward to 2018 and beyond, both Section 201 remedies and corporate tax reform present considerable downside risk to the industry’s base-case forecasts. However, at present, neither issue will be incorporated into GTM Research’s existing outlook until President Trump issues a formal decision on Section 201 trade remedies and the U.S. Congress votes on corporate tax reform legislation.”

— Solar Builder magazine

Meet SEIA’s new board of directors and division leaders


Hear ye, Hear ye. The Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA), the main trade association representing the solar industry, announced the results of its most recent election. The following industry leaders have been elected to serve on SEIA’s Board of Directors:

  • Zaid Ashai, CEO of Nexamp;
  • Chris Diaz, Principal at Seminole Financial Services;
  • Kendra Hubbard, Strategic Account Manager at Unirac;
  • Lee Peterson, Senior Manager at CohnReznick; and
  • Janice Schneider, Partner at Latham & Watkins LLP.

Joining them as elected alternates are Karla Loeb, VP of Policy & Business Development for Sigora Solar; and Anita (Weezie) Roberson, Partner at Eavenson, Fraser, Lunsford & Ivan.

SEIA members also elected representatives for each of its Membership divisions, serving as chair and vice chair, respectively;

• Distributed Generation – Tony Clifford, Chief Development Officer at Standard Solar; and Pamela Cargill, Principal at Chaolysti.

• Solar Heating and Cooling – Ed Murray, President of Aztec Solar; and Adam Chrisman, Vice President of Manufacturing and Engineering at SunEarth.

• Solar Services and Consumers – Laura E. Stern, Co-founder and President of Nautilus Solar Energy; and Laura Jones, Partner at Hunton & Williams.

• Utility Scale Solar Power – Fred Morse, President, Morse Associates; and Cari VanAmburg, Project Manager-Solar at EDP Renewables North America,


— Solar Builder magazine

Solar industry tells Trump to reject tariffs in ‘America First Plan’

trump solar energy plans

Today, the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA) sent its plan to the White House for boosting both U.S. manufacturing and the U.S. solar industry. As you might guess by the name, the America First Plan for Solar Energy, this is definitely the solar industry’s attempt to frame its message in a way that will most appeal to the Trump Administration.

The #1 message delivered in the America First Plan is to reject tariffs, with all other plans being secondary. SEIA lays out how, by just rejecting tariffs, Trump’s decision would grow jobs, support the military, ensure U.S. energy dominance and not provide a bail out to foreign companies. There are even quotes from Sean Hannity sprinkled in.

The politics at play in the pitch seem pretty obvious and likely necessary (Will Trump want a “save U.S. manufacturing” or a “protects national security” headline?) but it shouldn’t distract from the cogent recommendation the group sent to the ITC, which is the meat underneath the America First messaging. Those additional recommendations are listed in Step 6 of this plan:

SEIA recommends that President Trump create an import license fee system to imported crystalline silicon PV (CSPV) solar panels using Section 1102 of the Trade Act in combination with Section 201 of the 1974 law.

License revenues collected by the U.S. government are then distributed to the domestic industry to incentivize manufacturing growth. At a fee of a half cent per watt, this would raise roughly $192 million over three years for U.S. manufacturers. A 1¢ per watt fee would raise $384 million

This is money that would be taken from foreign manufacturers and delivered directly to American manufacturers.


— Solar Builder magazine

Schools using solar energy has doubled in three years — here’s why

solar schools

Schools and solar are a perfect match. This is no longer just a theory either, with 5,489 K-12 schools in the United States now using solar energy — a number nearly double the total solar capacity that was installed at schools in 2014, according to a major new report by The Solar Foundation, Generation 180, and the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA).

The report, Brighter Future: A Study on Solar in U.S. Schools, 2nd Edition, captures the accelerating trends of solar adoption in U.S. schools. As you might expect, California leads the nation in the number of solar schools by state, with 1,946 solar schools and a 489 MW capacity, followed by New Jersey, Arizona, Massachusetts and New York. Nevada has the highest adoption rate, with 23 percent of schools using solar energy statewide. Arizona has the most solar school capacity on a per capita basis, at 86 watts per student.

Nearly 4 million students in the U.S. attend schools with solar power, with a combined capacity of 910 megawatts (MW), an increase of 86 percent over 2014. The amount of electricity these schools produce annually, at 1.4 million megawatt-hours, is enough to power over 190,000 homes.

“There’s a reason solar is spreading so quickly across America’s school districts, and it’s pretty simple — when schools go solar, the entire community benefits,” said Abigail Ross Hopper, SEIA’s president and CEO. “By switching to solar energy, schools immediately see their electric bills go down, leaving more money for learning. Plus, what teacher wouldn’t want a life lesson in science and conservation right there on school grounds? It’s a win all the way around.”

Why? Lower prices, more financing

The dramatic growth in solar school adoption has been driven by rapidly declining installation costs. The average price of a solar school installation has dropped 67 percent in the last 10 years, and 19 percent in 2016 alone, this report found.

At the same time that costs are going down, schools have more financing options that minimize up-front investment. In recent years, most schools have financed their solar installations through power purchase agreements (PPAs), in which a third-party finances, builds, owns, and maintains the system. This allows schools and districts to purchase solar with very little initial cost. Within the last three years, nearly 90 percent of the schools for which data is available used a PPA to install solar.

PV in schools: Education sector is one of solar’s best opportunities

Solar Schools Campaign

In conjunction with this report, clean energy nonprofit Generation 180 is launching a national Solar Schools Campaign to mobilize parents, students, school districts, and local leaders to support the transition to solar energy in their communities. The campaign is creating volunteer teams and will leverage a detailed “how-to-guide” in the report that provides advice on how schools can muster support, assess economic feasibility, identify financing options, generate proposals, and select installers for solar energy systems.

“Many school districts need champions to help make stakeholders aware of the opportunities for going solar,” said Tish Tablan, National Organizer for Generation 180. “Our Solar Schools Campaign is designed to equip these champions with the information and tools they need. Once they see the financial, educational, and environmental benefits, we are confident that many schools will make the transition for a brighter future.”

Case studies on different approaches

• In Bozeman, Montana at Sacajawea Middle school, an eighth grader led a successful campaign to raise $115,000 to install solar. The funds are expected to be paid back through electricity bill savings within nine years.
• In Reno, Nevada, Washoe County School District meets 12 percent of its energy consumption from 4.2 MW of solar installations at 35 schools, which will help the district meet its 20 percent renewable energy goal by 2020.
• In New York State, Broadalbin-Perth Central School District is developing an 8,000-panel, 2 MW offsite solar array to help offset the costs of a capital improvement campaign. The installation is expected to save $5.3 million on electricity bills over 25 years.
• In Arlington, Virginia, Discovery Elementary School uses solar as part of its net-zero design that is a large part of the school’s interactive energy curriculum, saving $100,000 annually on electricity bills.
• In Bakersfield, California, Kern High School District is installing 22 MW on 27 sites, saving an estimated $80 million over 25 years.
• In Illinois, Grayslake Community High School District is meeting 36 percent of its energy consumption through rooftop solar on two high schools and a third, ground-mounted system, saving an estimated $10 million over 25 years.

You can read the full report here.

— Solar Builder magazine