In the first three months of the year, the U.S. installed 2.7 GW of solar photovoltaics, making it the most solar ever installed in the first quarter of a year, according to the new U.S. Solar Market Insight Report from Wood Mackenzie and the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA).
Considering the strong first quarter, the report suggests 25% growth in 2019 compared to 2018, with more than 13 GW of installations expected this year.
“The first-quarter data and projections for the rest of the year are promising for the solar industry,” says Abigail Ross Hopper, president and CEO of SEIA. “However, if we are to make the kind of progress we need to make the 2020s ‘The Solar Decade,’ we will need to make substantial policy and market advances.”
According to the report, the largest share of installations during the record-breaking quarter came from the utility PV segment, with 1.6 GW coming online, making up 61% of PV capacity installed. The report notes that with 4.7 GW of large-scale projects under construction, 2019 is on track to be a strong year for utility PV, with an expected 46% growth over 2018.
“Voluntary procurement of utility PV based on its economic competitiveness continues to be the primary driver of projects announced in 2019,” says Colin Smith, Wood Mackenzie’s senior solar analyst. “While many states, utilities and cities have announced or proposed 50 or 100 percent renewable energy or zero-carbon standards, the announcements have not yet resulted in an uptick in RPS-driven procurement.”
The residential market experienced annual growth, as well: According to the report, the U.S. saw 603 MW of residential solar installations during the first quarter, which is up 6% annually. This represents the third consecutive quarter of more than 600 MW of installed capacity.
“Despite steady installations in Q1 2019, the residential market is still highly reliant on legacy state markets, such as California and the Northeast, which have seen only modest to flat growth over the past several quarters,” notes Austin Perea, solar analyst at Wood Mackenzie. “As these major state markets continue to grow past early-adopter consumers, higher costs of customer acquisition will challenge the industry to innovate product offerings and diversify geographically.”
In fact, the report notes that 29% of residential capacity in Q1 2019 came from markets outside the top 10 solar states by capacity – representing the highest share for emerging markets in industry history.
The non-residential segment – which represents commercial, industrial and public-sector distributed solar – saw 438 MW of PV installed on the quarter, which was down on both a quarterly and annual basis. According to the report, this is largely a result of state-level policy reforms in historically strong markets for the segment, including California, Massachusetts and Minnesota. The authors point to new community solar mandates in New York, Maryland, Illinois and New Jersey that are expected to help reinvigorate the segment beginning in 2020.
The report adds that total installed U.S. PV capacity is expected to more than double over the next five years, with annual installations reaching 16.4 GW in 2021 prior to the expiration of the residential federal investment tax credit and a drop in the commercial tax credit to 10% for projects not yet under construction.