Solar stronger than ever? Q3 2016 breaks PV installation record, but residential slows

The United States solar market just shattered all previous quarterly solar photovoltaic installation records. According to GTM Research and the Solar Energy Industries Association’s (SEIA) Q4 2016 U.S. Solar Market Insight report, 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. That pace is even faster today, as the fourth quarter will surpass this past quarter’s historic total.

“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. “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.”

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Good news, yes?

GTM SEIA quarterly solar installs

This may depend on the segment you serve. The report points to an “unprecedented rate of project completion” in the utility-scale segment as a key growth driver. In fact, the utility-scale segment represented 77 percent of solar PV installed in the third quarter of the year.

GTM Research anticipates that a massive 4.8 GW of utility PV projects will come on-line in the fourth quarter of the year – that’s more than was installed across the entire utility PV segment in all of 2015.

“Driven by a large pipeline of utility PV projects initially procured under the assumption of a 2016 federal ITC expiration, the third quarter of 2016 represents the first phase of this massive wave of project completion – a trend that will continue well into the first half of 2017,” said Cory Honeyman, associate director of U.S. solar at GTM Research.

The non-residential segment posted its second largest quarter ever. With 375 MW installed, the segment grew 15 percent over the second quarter of the year and 37 percent annually. Part of this growth is attributed to a community solar pipeline that is finally beginning to materialize, a segment that accounted for a record 20 percent of the non-residential PV market in Q3 2016.

As for residential…

This past quarter marks the sixth consecutive quarter in which more than a half GW of residential PV was installed; however, the segment is experiencing a slowdown from its peak growth quarters. The residential PV segment grew just 2 percent year-over-year and actually fell 10 percent from last quarter’s total. The report cites changes in the sales cycles in mature state markets, like California, and challenges posed by rate design reform, such as the elimination of net metering in Nevada, as reasons for the shift.

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.

A summation in bullet points:

  • Primarily driven by utility PV, the U.S. installed 4,143 MWdc of solar PV in Q3 2016, increasing 99% over Q2 2016 and 191% over Q3 2015. This marks the largest quarter ever for the U.S. solar industry.
  • On average, a new megawatt of solar PV capacity came on-line every 32 minutes in Q3 2016.
  • Between Q1 and Q3 2016, solar accounted for 39% of all new electric generating capacity brought on-line in the U.S, ranking second only to natural gas as the largest source of new capacity additions.
  • Through Q3 2016, the U.S. solar PV market has already surpassed its record total from 2015, driven by 14 states that installed more than 100 MWdc between Q1 and Q3 2016.
  • In Q3 2016, California became the first state ever to add more than 1 GWdc of utility PV in a single quarter.
  • For only the second time in five years, the residential PV market fell quarter-over-quarter, primarily due to a slowdown in major state markets, especially California.
  • In Q3 2016, community solar added more capacity than the segment installed in all of 2015, playing a key role in supporting the second-largest quarter ever for the non-residential PV market.
  • GTM Research forecasts that 14.1 GWdc of new PV installations will come on-line in 2016, up 88% over 2015. Utility PV is expected to account for over 70% of that new capacity.

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