US Solar PV Grows 15% In Second Quarter

U.S. solar photovoltaic installations continued to grow in the second quarter, although somewhat less powerfully than might have been expected based on the first-quarter performance – particularly with rooftop installations, as the residential and commercial sectors stalled a bit.

Still, 832 megawatts of new PV capacity went in, a 15 percent increase over the first quarter and the second-best quarterly performance ever, driving operating PV capacity to 8,858 MW and total U.S. solar capacity to 9,370 MW.

image via Solar Market Insight Report

image via Solar Market Insight Report

Utility-scale installations made up more than half the new capacity in the quarter ended June 30, with 38 projects totaling 452 megawatts completed. And there’s more on the way: 4.1 gigawatts of utlity PV are under construction, according to a new report from GTM Research and the Solar Energy Industry Association, and another  12.1 GW of power-purchase agreements are in place.

Stepping back and forecasting growth for 2013, GTM and SEIA stuck with their earlier number of 4.4 GW of new PV installations.  In 2012, the U.S. added 3.3 GW. Another 900 MW of concentrating solar power is expected to arrive before the end of this year, with big projects like Ivanpah and Crescent Dunes nearing completion.

From a state perspective, in the second quarter of the year California more than ever was the U.S. leader, with 438 MW of new capacity followed by Arizona at 90 MW and New Jersey at 75 MW. “Despite the end of California Solar Initiative incentives, the California residential market continues to thrive and the outlook remains strong, pending changes to rate design and net metering,” the report’s authors said in an executive summary released to the public.

That question of “rate design and net metering” has become a big one, not just in California and around the country – we just saw a new flare-up in Colorado. The new report suggested that attempts by utility’s to pull back on their support for rooftop solar could crimp the increasingly popular third-party-owned model, which allows homeowners to take advantage of relatively cheap retail solar without taking on big installation costs.

“It is still possible that utilities may enter the residential PV market, offering existing customers discounts on retail rates by owning and operating residential systems themselves,” the report said, rather hopefully. “Some utilities have already invested in project finance funds created by TPO providers or have directly invested equity in these companies, but generally through the utilities’ unregulated independent power producer (IPP) arms.  In turn, utility investment in DG provides more opportunities for market growth across the U.S. because of utilities’ access to and business relationships with existing customers.”

Pete Danko is a writer and editor based in Portland, Oregon. His work has appeared in Breaking Energy, National Geographic's Energy Blog, The New York Times, San Francisco Chronicle and elsewhere.

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