U.S. solar industry expands 15% in second quarter, but growth leveling off

The U.S. solar industry continues to show positive signs of growth, with 832 MW of solar power installed in the second quarter of 2013, according to figures published today by the SEIA and GTM Research.

These figures mark a growth of 15% on the first quarter of the year, and mean that cumulative solar capacity for the U.S. will surpass 10 GW before the year is out. However, despite such a robust second quarter – which was an increase of 1.5% on the same period last year making it the second best quarter ever – the figures point to a slow down in growth.

Not all three market segments saw expansion. The utility sector increased by 42% on the first quarter with an additional 452 MW of PV power installed. But in the residential sector a flat quarter saw its incremental growth streak come to an end, while the commercial market saw less than half – 13 out of 28 states tracked – reporting a quarterly growth: a slump of 11% on the first quarter.

The report forecasts that the U.S. will install a total of 4.4 GW of solar power in 2013, which is an increase of 30% on 2012, buoyed by rising demand for residential rooftop systems and a bulging pipeline of utility-scale projects. However, compared to the 76% growth rate that occured between 2011 and 2012, the pace has most definitely slackened.

"The market is continuing to grow, there’s no questions there," said Shayle Kann, vice president at GTM Research. "The growth is certainly more incremental than it used to be. We’re used to seeing the market doubling – we’re past the point where that is happening.??

"The commercial market is having a tough time in the U.S. It’s a confluence of a number of state markets going through a cyclical downturn all at the same time. It doesn’t necessarily speak to a rough future for commercial solar in the U.S."

Kann added: "Distributed generation is the big story in the U.S. solar market this year. We expect significant growth, especially in the residential sector, but the future will be dictated by the increasingly complex nexus between the solar industry and utilities."

The report also suggested that anecdotal evidence points to a substantially stronger third quarter, which is likely to elevate the U.S.’s PV capacity to 13% of the global share by the end of 2013 – up from just 5% in 2008.