Here Comes the Sun: Residential Solar Market Soars 76% in Q1

After a decade of false starts, subsidies squabbles, and unfulfilled promises, the U.S. solar industry is finally starting to shine.

After a decade of false starts, subsidies squabbles, and unfulfilled promises, the U.S. solar industry is finally starting to shine.

According to the U.S. Solar Market Insight Report, residential solar installations in Q1 2015 soared up 76% over last year's Q1 total, adding 437 megawatts of photovoltaics to the market.  

That growth is all the more impressive given the harsh winter that crippled just about every other energy industry in the U.S. during the same period.  

Under normal circumstances, the first quarter tends to be the slowest time of the year for the solar market due to weather, accounting, and tax considerations. However, somehow even under the far from normal circumstances of early 2015, the residential solar market still grew 11% over last quarter, its previous high-water mark.

“Q1 2015 provided a clear glimpse into the future role that the residential sector will play as a primary driver of not only solar market growth, but the overall electricity generation mix," explained Shayle Kann, Senior Vice President at GTM Research.  

“In the first quarter of this year, the U.S. installed more residential solar than natural gas, and solar on the whole accounted for 51% of all new electric generating brought online," he added. "We expect more than three million residential solar installations over the next five years, marked by a broader trend toward customer engagement in energy usage, generation and management.”

While the residential market shines, the report shows that the non-residential and utility segments were more impacted by some of the market’s usual seasonality.

The non-residential market installed 225 MW in the first quarter of the year. The report notes that the customer origination, project finance and state incentive reductions continue to challenge the segment. But despite these challenges, five of the six largest non-residential state markets did grow over Q1 2014.

Continuing to carry the largest share of the market, the utility segment installed 644 MW, which represents 49% of new PV capacity brought on-line in Q1 2015. Utility PV installations have now surpassed 500 MW for eight consecutive quarters. Yet, the highlight of this quarter for the segment was not what came on-line, but instead what was procured and added to the pipeline.

The report notes that there are now 25 project developers with pipelines in development of 100 MW or more. GTM Research expects a flurry of activity in the utility segment over the next 18 months ahead of the scheduled decline of the federal Investment Tax Credit.

“Today’s report reveals just how important establishing and maintaining effective, forward-looking public policies, like the solar Investment Tax Credit (ITC), are to America,” said Rhone Resch, SEIA president and CEO. “Solar continues to be the fastest-growing source of renewable energy in the United States. By 2016, the U.S. will be generating enough clean solar energy to power 8 million homes. That means solar will offset 45 million metric tons of damaging carbon emissions – the equivalent of removing 10 million cars off our roads and highways.”

GTM Research forecasts that PV installations will reach 7.9 GW in 2015, up 27% over 2014.

Key Findings from the Q1 2015 U.S. Solar Market Insight Report

  • The U.S. installed 1,306 MW of solar PV in Q1 2015, marking the sixth consecutive quarter in which the U.S. added more than 1 GW of PV installations.

  • The residential and utility PV market segments each added more capacity than the natural gas industry brought on-line in Q1 2015.

  • Collectively, more than 51% of all new electric generating capacity in the U.S. came from solar in Q1 2015.

  • 66,440 individual solar systems came online in Q1 2015, bringing the total to nearly 700,000 nationwide. 

  • The average cost for a residential solar system is now $3.48/watt, 10% lower than this time last year.

  • More than one-third of all community solar installations have come on-line since 2014.

  • More than 5 GW of centralized PV has now been procured by utilities based on solar’s economic competitiveness with fossil-fuel alternatives.  

  • Through Q1 2015, nearly one-fourth of cumulative residential solar installations have now come on-line without any state incentive.

  • PV installations are forecast to reach 7.9 GW in 2015, up 27% over 2014. Growth will occur in all segments, but will be most rapid in the residential market.

  • 2014 was the largest year ever for concentrating solar power, with 767 MW brought on-line. The next notable CSP project slated for completion is SolarReserve’s 110 MW Crescent Dunes, which entered the commissioning phase in 2014 and is expected to become fully operational before the end of 2015


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