James Montgomery, Associate Editor, RenewableEnergyWorld.com
December 10, 2013 | 6 Comments
New Hampshire, USA -- U.S. solar PV installations surged 20 percent to 930 MW in the July-September quarter compared with the previous three months, and the U.S. is poised to install more solar than Germany for the first time in more than 15 years, according to a just-released update from the Solar Energy Industry Association (SEIA) and GTM Research.
The growth in U.S. solar PV is a tale of two scales. On the one hand, residential PV installations were a record 186 MW, up 45 percent year-on-year, displaying a consistent growth both quarter-on-quarter and year-on-year, noted Rhone Resch, SEIA president and CEO. On the utility-scale side, 52 projects were completed during 3Q13 totaling 539 MW of capacity. The non-residential sector, as defined in this report, continues to be flat; this includes "non-residential" projects on the customer side of the meter with a retail power purchaser, but not wholesale distributed generation defined as sub-20 MW projects on the utility side of the meter.
U.S. PV installations by market segment, 1Q10-3Q13. Source: U.S. Solar Market Insight Q3 2013, SEIA/GTM Research
By its nature the utility-scale segment is a roller-coaster where one or two projects can significantly move the needle. The pipeline through 2014 looks good, but will increasingly depend on federal and state policies to keep going strong. "What we tend to do as an industry is get caught up in policies that were created 4-5 years ago" which are now starting to run out, Resch said. "The reality is there's a whole new suite of federal and state policies that are going to have a huge impact," such as the Department of the Interior's (DOI) work in crafting solar energy zones and approving large-scale projects to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission's (FERC) fast-tracking of interconnections to solar resource areas. Reliance on loan guarantees is also fading as private finance becomes more comfortable with large-scale solar projects. And states are pushing ever higher renewable portfolio standards -- and rejecting efforts to roll them back -- which could require more and more solar energy coming online.
CSP projects in particular are starting to be challenged by project runways that will soon bump into the projected 2016 expiration of the Investment Tax Credit, which will significantly change their economics, Resch acknowledged. But he also pointed out that one of the policy advancements being pursued is softening the ITC's "commence construction" language as was done for the production tax credit (PTC).
There's also a piece missing from the utility-scale solar puzzle, he suggested: some utilities are prevented from owning them in their own service districts. Progress is being made by some such as Georgia Power, Resch pointed, but many states are deregulated and utilities are prevented from owning those assets. Thus the utility-scale sector will continue to grow on the backs of holding companies and independent power producers (IPP) -- which means ultimately regulated utilities "are going to have to embrace distributed solar generation," he said.
More tidbits from the newest version of the U.S. Solar Market Insight report:
The report also offers some thoughts on what's ahead for U.S. solar installations in the current quarter and beyond:
U.S. PV installation forecast and market segmentation through 2016E. Source: U.S. Solar Market Insight Q3 2013, SEIA/GTM Research