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U.S. Solar Installations Just Had Their Second-Best Quarter Ever

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"U.S. Solar Installations Just Had Their Second-Best Quarter Ever"

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Michael Bennet, Jarret Esposito, Jake Torwatzky

CREDIT: AP / Ed Andrieski

The second quarter of 2013 was photovoltaic solar power’s second-best ever, with 832 megawatts of capacity installed between April and June. The Q2 2013 numbers, compiled by the quarterly U.S. Solar Market Insight Report — courtesy of GTM Research and the Solar Energy Industries Association — show a steady upward trend in the use of photovoltaic (PV) solar despite the ups and downs of the market and government policy.

That second-best ever performance came in spite of Q2 2013 installations coming in a bit under analysts’ expectations. The number of non-residential installations — solar PV for businesses — unfortunately shrank 11 percent from last quarter. The report chalks that up to a run of bad luck on the state level, including regulatory uncertainty in Massachusetts and the removal of certain performance incentives in Arizona. Non-residential growth in the second half of 2013 is expected to be higher.

Growth in residential installations also flatlined, leaving utility-scale solar PV projects as the big driver for Q2 2013. That sector put in 452 megawatts (MW) — 42 percent more than went up in Q1 2013. In total, 38 utility projects were completed this quarter, with the ten largest to be found in either California or Arizona.

solar-installations-Q2-2013

Another 4.1 gigawatts (GW) worth of utility projects are under construction, plus another 8 GW worth of signed power purchase agreements for future projects.

One drag on the solar market worth mentioning is the reduction in government spending thanks to sequestration, which included cuts to government incentives for solar. Sequestration was originally scheduled to hit at the start of this year — part of the overall “fiscal cliff” crisis — and a lot of the massive spike in installations in Q4 2012 can probably be attributed to efforts to take advantage of the incentives before they expired. Sequestration was ultimately delayed until March. But now that it’s in effect, it is significant that solar is still steadily clawing its way upward.

The report also notes that states need to figure out net metering and other policies related to distributed generation in order for the residential market to maximize its potential. Those decisions will shape how homeowners can cut their utility bill by installing solar, and to what extent they can sell the surplus power they generate back to the grid. Home-based solar PV generation also threatens to destabilize the utilities’ business model, which sparked ongoing policy fights in several states. California in particular is considering a bill to lift a cap on the credit that net metering can deliver back to utility customers with solar.

The robust performance of the utility sector and the admittedly under-whelming growth in the residential and non-residential sectors added up to a steady upward clip for the solar PV market, which the report expects to continue for the next few years. It anticipates a total of 4.4 GW of PV solar will come online by the end of 2013, with an additional 912 MW of concentrated solar power installations bringing the year’s total haul to well over 5 GW. The solar PV growth specifically is a 30 percent increase over 2012′s 3.3 GW, and will bring America’s total solar PV capacity to over 10 GW.

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