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Solar set to soar in 2016 after record year

March 16, 2016 By Molly White in

The U.S. installed more than 7 gigawatts of solar photovoltaic power in 2015 — its largest annual total ever, according to a report from GTM Research and the Solar Energy Industries Association.

GTM Research called 2015 a momentous year for solar power and a continuation of its ongoing growth. The U.S. installed 16 percent more solar in 2015 than it did in 2014, bringing the cumulative total to more than 25 GW by the end of 2015, up from 2 GW at the end of 2010.

Additionally, solar beat natural gas capacity additions in 2015 for the first time, GTM Research said, accounting for nearly 30 percent of all new electricity generation brought online in 2015.

By sector, solar was strong for utilities and residential developers, while the non-residential sector remained flat. The residential solar market benefitted from a fourth consecutive year of more than 50 percent annual growth, GTM Research said. Installations reached more than 2 GW. The non-residential sector, which has faced several market and scaling challenges, saw little growth.

The utility sector led the growth in solar capacity with more than 4 GW in installations, up 6 percent over 2014, GTM Research said. Nearly 20 GW of projects are still in development, contributing to the research firm’s prediction that 2016 will be an even bigger year for solar.

GTM Research predicted that 16 GW of new solar installations will come online in 2016, up 120 percent over 2015.

At the state level, 13 states installed more than 100 MW of solar each but GTM Research said solar development at the state level remains concentrated a few in top states that accounted for 87 percent of all installations. Six states have surpassed 1 GW in cumulative capacity — Arizona, California, Massachusetts, Nevada, New Jersey and North Carolina. 

In the policy and regulation arenas, GTM Research said 2015 was also a significant year. The federal investment tax credit was extended at its current rate through 2021.  GTM Research said it estimates that the extension alone will result in 50 percent net growth in solar installations from 2016 to 2020 — an additional 24 GW of installations over the five-year period, reaching 97 GW by the end of 2020.

Net meter and electricity rate design were at the forefront on the state level as states such as California and Nevada reached decisions on net metering, GTM Research said.