US solar installations up 30% to 6.2 GW in 2014

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Solar PV installations in the United States grew 30% to 6.2 GW last year, according to a new report from GTM Research and the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA).

In addition to newly installed PV, an additional 767 MW of concentrating solar power (CSP) came on-line in 2014, according to the U.S. Solar Market Insight 2014 Year in Review.

Solar accounted for 32% of new generating capacity in the U.S. last year, beating out both wind energy and coal for the second year in a row, the study found. Only natural gas constituted a greater share of new generating capacity.

For the first time in history, each of the three major U.S. market segments – utility, commercial and residential – installed more than a gigawatt of PV last year.

The U.S. utility-scale segment broke the gigawatt mark in 2011 and has since grown by nearly 1 GW annually. In 2014, 3.9 GW of utility-scale PV projects came on-line with another 14 GW of projects currently under contract.

The commercial segment also first installed more than 1 GW in 2011 but has not shared the same success as the utility-scale segment, according to the report. In 2014, the commercial segment installed just over 1 GW, down 6% from 2013.

“Many factors have contributed to this trend, ranging from tight economics to difficulty financing small commercial installations,” the report found. GTM Research nevertheless expects 2015 to be a bounce-back year for the commercial segment, highlighted by a resurgence in California.

The U.S. residential segment’s 1.2 GW in 2014 marks its first time surpassing 1 GW. SEIA pointed out that residential continued to be the fastest-growing market segment in the U.S., with 2014 marking three consecutive years of greater than 50% annual growth.

“Without question, the solar Investment Tax Credit (ITC) has helped to fuel our industry’s remarkable growth. Today the U.S. solar industry has more employees than tech giants Google, Apple, Facebook and Twitter combined,” said SEIA President and CEO Rhone Resch.

Making a case for the ITC, Resch added that since the tax credit was passed in 2006, the solar industry has created more than 150,000 jobs and investment in solar installations nationwide has reached $66 billion.

"We now have 20 GW of installed solar capacity – enough to power 4 million U.S. homes – and we’re helping to reduce harmful carbon emissions by 20 million metric tons a year," Resch pointed out. "By any measurement, the ITC has been a huge success for both our economy and environment.”

GTM Research forecasts the U.S. PV market to grow 31% in 2015. The utility segment is expected to account for 59% of the forecasted 8.1 GW of PV.

"Solar PV was a $13.4 billion market in the U.S. in 2014, up from just $3 billion in 2009," said Shayle Kann, senior vice president at GTM Research. "And this growth should continue throughout 2015 thanks to falling solar costs, business model innovation, an attractive political and regulatory environment and increased availability of low-cost capital."

Additional findings in the report included:

  • More than a third of all cumulative operating PV capacity in the U.S. came on-line in 2014
  • By the end of 2014, 20 states eclipsed the 100 MW mark for cumulative operating PV installations, with California alone boasting 8.7 GW
  • For the first time ever, more than half a gigawatt of residential solar installations came on line without any state incentive in 2014
  • The utility PV market, which installed 1.5 GW in Q4 2014 — the largest quarterly total ever for any market segment — remains the main growth driver
  • 2014 was the largest year ever for concentrating solar power, with 767 MW brought on-line. Notable project completions include the 392 MW Ivanpah project. Genesis Solar project’s second phase of 125 MW and Abengoa’s 250 MW Mojave Solar, which achieved commercial operation in December 2014
  • All solar projects completed in 2014 represent $17.8 billion in investment ($13.4 billion in PV and $4.4 billion in CSP)
  • As of the end of 2014, cumulative operating PV in the U.S. totaled 18.3 GW and cumulative operating CSP totaled 1.7 GW.