US posts record year for solar in 2013

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As market research company GTM Research and U.S. solar industry body the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA) today reported record figures for U.S. solar last year, an analyst at fellow research and consulting firm GlobalData has highlighted the importance of support mechanisms to North American solar.

With U.S. president Barack Obama announcing on Monday the investment tax credit (ITC) will be removed from U.S. solar projects at the end of 2016, the nation’s leading role in solar in the Americas – accounting for 89.1% of installations in North and South America in 2013, according to GlobalData – could be at risk.

It remains to be seen whether the ITC announcement will spur a solar rush to claim tax credits before December 31, 2016 in the States and, for now at least, solar appears to be in rude health, according to GTM and the SEIA’s Solar Market Insight Year-in-Review 2013 report.

A joint press release issued today to announce the report’s publication stated solar installations climbed 41% on 2012 last year, to 4.75 GW with 2.1 GW arriving in the final quarter alone, making the October-to-December 2013 period 60% bigger than the previous quarterly record, set in Q4, 2012.

Solar within sight of mainstream

Shayle Kann, vice president at GTM Research, said the fact solar was the second biggest source of new electricity generating capacity in the U.S. last year – trailing only natural gas as it accounted for 29% of new capacity compared to 10% in 2012 – indicated mainstream status is in sight.

Last year’s $13.7 billion worth of 140,000 installations took the U.S. to a cumulative 440,000 systems generating 12.1 GW and was helped by continued falls in the price of U.S. solar systems to $2.59/W in the final three months of the year.

California again led the way with more than half of new installations and, although Arizona dipped to 421 MW from the 710 MW seen in 2012, North Carolina, Massachusetts and Georgia more than doubled their combined 2012 total with 633 MW of installations last year as California, Arizona, North Carolina, Massachusetts and New Jersey accounted for 81% of new U.S. solar.

6 GW to be added in U.S. this year

Despite fears surrounding the removal of the ITC, the report’s authors are predicting a 26% rise in U.S. installations this year, with residential systems leading the way as almost 6 GW are added for a cumulative total of almost 20 GW.

GlobalData’s long-term predictions, outlined in a press release yesterday to publish its new report, cite even more impressive figures with the inclusion of South America.

GlobalData’s North and South America Solar PV Market Outlook to 2030 – Installed Capacity, Market Size, Risk Analysis, Market Saturation and Company Profiles report predicts the Americas will see installations rise from 13.1 GW last year to 138.8 GW in 2030 with output rising from 21 TWh to 234 TWh.

But with the U.S. accounting for 89.1% of last year’s output – ahead of Canada (8.5%) and Brazil (0.2%) – senior analyst for power, Prasad Tanikella, sounded a warning note with the comment: "The US and Canada are among the global leaders in terms of renewable power generation. Their growth has been facilitated primarily by support mechanisms, provided by federal and state governments."

With president Obama unlikely to heed the call by the SEIA’s Rhone Resch for a rethink over the solar ITC, residential solar may have to pick up a lot of slack from the commercial and utility segments in the U.S. from 2017 onwards to bring those predictions to life.