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U.S. solar industry built a record 7.3 GW of new capacity in 2015

Dive Brief:

  • The U.S. solar industry built a record-setting 7,286 MW of new photovoltaic (PV) capacity in 2015, according to new numbers from the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA) and GTM Research. Solar 29.5% of U.S. new capacity beat new build in natural gas.
  • The market grew 17% year-over-year and 13 states added more than 100 MW. Residential solar was the fastest growing sector, adding over 2 GW of new capacity, a 66% year-on-year jump. The non-residential sector added another 1 GW of new capacity.
  • The utility-scale PV solar sector added a record-setting 4 GW of new capacity, a 6% gain on 2014. In addition, SolarReserve’s Crescent Dunes concentrating solar power project began delivering its 110 MW capacity with 10 hours of solar thermal storage to the NV Energy grid in 2015.

Dive Insight:

Total U.S. installed solar PV capacity is now over 25 GW, up from 2 GW in 2010. The nearly 7.3 GW of new capacity installed last year was 8 times the capacity installed in 2010, according to GTM Research.

The industry's strong growth is expected to continue thanks to the extension of the 30% federal investment tax credit for solar installations at the end of 2015. 

"The ITC extension will result in a 20 GW annual solar market in the U.S. by 2020," GTM Research Senior Vice President Shayle Kann recently told Utility Dive. "At that rate, more solar will be installed each year than was added to the grid cumulatively through 2014."

To take advantage of solar's increasing competitiveness, utility leaders should, first and foremost, think about the solar-related product opportunities that fit their business models, said GTM Sr. Analyst Cory Honeyman

A cooperative or municipal utility has more flexibility in procurement and development, he said. “That fits naturally with building out ambitious community solar programs and with thinking about a rooftop solar program.”

Investor-owned utility leaders face a tension between constraints and opportunities. Where there are renewables mandates, “it is worth noticing how cost-competitive utility-scale solar has become,” the GTM analyst said. 

Where there is no mandate, IOU leaders should recognize the widespread expectation that over a utility’s long-term planning horizon, natural gas prices are likely to rise, meaning solar and other renewable can act as a hedge against price volatility and serve decarbonization goals. 

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GTM Research: U.S. Solar Market Sets New Record, Installing 7.3 GW of Solar PV in 2015