US adds record 4.1GW of new PV in Q3

Driven by a booming utility-scale market, the US installed a record 4.1GW of new PV capacity in the third quarter, on its way to an estimated 14.1GW for the full year, according to new figures from the Solar Energy Industries Association and GTM Research.

In the third quarter, the solar industry installed one megawatt of new capacity every 32 minutes on average, and the fourth quarter is expected to be even stronger.

Analysts have long expected this to be a record-breaking year for the US solar market, given that the 30% federal investment tax credit (ITC) was initially set to expire at the end of this year--spurring developers to finish their projects by the end of 2016.

Late last year Congress passed a multi-year ITC extension, but many large projects were already in train, and so are still being brought online now and over the next few quarters.

“The third quarter of 2016 represents the first phase of this massive wave of project completion, a trend that will continue well into the first half of 2017,” says Cory Honeyman, associate director of US solar at GTM Research.

The fourth quarter is expected to set yet another record for installations, with 4.8GW slated to come online, leading GTM to boost its full-year forecast to 14.1GW. In 2015 the US installed a then-record 7.3GW of solar capacity; it did not crack the 1GW mark on annual basis until 2011.

“Coming off our largest quarter ever and with an extremely impressive pipeline ahead, it’s safe to say the state of the solar industry here in America is strong,” says SEIA interim president Tom Kimbis.

The utility-scale segment dominated the overall market in the third quarter, accounting for 77% of total installations, or nearly 11GW.

Meanwhile, the non-residential segment, which includes distributed installations for businesses and government entities, posted its second-largest quarter, with 375MW of new installations, up 37% year on year.

The non-residential market is increasingly being spurred by the emerging community solar sector, which accounted for a record 20% of the total in the quarter.

On a down note, the fiery growth that has characterised residential rooftop installations in recent years – and propelled companies like SolarCity and Vivint Solar – is cooling. The residential market grew just 2% in the third quarter compared to last year, and it fell 10% from the second quarter.

Regulatory battles in states like Nevada, where utilities have pushed back aggressively against the rise of distributed generation, are denting the market’s growth.