2016 Solar Installations Continue at Record Breaking Rate

 SACE staffer Chris Ann Lunghino also contributed to this post.

As we get ready to wrap up 2016, let’s take a look at how solar installations have fared  in the last several months. The year started off with high hopes for record-breaking solar installations – how did the solar industry do?

According to new research just released by SEIA in cooperation with GTM Research, solar has soared in the past year! In the third quarter alone, over 4,000 solar megawatts were installed in the United States. This record-breaking amount is 191 percent higher than the total megawatts installed in the third quarter of 2015, and 99 percent higher than the total megawatts installed earlier this year, second quarter 2016. In 2010, less than 4,000 megawatts of solar had been installed cumulatively in the entire United States! One megawatt of solar was installed every 32 minutes during the third quarter this year. That’s impressive.

As you can see in the graph above from SEIA and GTM Research, the vast majority of this new solar is utility scale. Residential solar installations, which had been steadily increasing, have seen a slowing of momentum throughout 2016 and a recent dip nationally, although the national trend is not necessarily consistent state-to-state. States with more saturated residential solar markets are naturally starting to see a drop-off as solar has become more “mainstream” and most of the early adopters have already installed solar. According to SEIA and GTM Research, increasing customer acquisition costs in these states as a result of market saturation and increased competition have also played a role in the drop in residential solar installations. Outside of those markets, however, residential solar remains at a low penetration level (less than 1 percent), presenting plenty of market opportunity for residential installations.

On this table from SEIA and GTM Research, you can see the cumulative, 2015 annual, and Q3 2016 rankings of solar installation by state. Let’s look at the Southeast’s contribution to that record-breaking 4000 MW of solar in Q3 2016. Two of the region’s states, Georgia and North Carolina, made impressive showings, with rankings of 4th and 6th, respectively. South Carolina, Florida, and Tennessee all came in middle of the pack, ranked 20th, 22nd, and 25th respectively.

The overall growth we’ve seen in 2016 is expected to continue in 2017, but according to SEIA and GTM Research the projected 2017 numbers are inflated outside of what would be considered natural market development because a significant number of projects previously slated for 2016 were pushed to next year. This shift is due, in a large part, to the extension of the federal Investment Tax Credit, which had previously been scheduled to end, creating a large volume of accelerated timelines. As 2017 starts off, it will be interesting to see how the industry responds to the changing political climate and if the solar pipeline begins to fill up with new projects in addition to the ones already planned. SACE looks forward to continuing our work to advance the deployment of solar across the Southeast!

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