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Utility-scale solar drives continued capacity growth

June 13, 2016 By Molly White in

By Laura D’Alessandro
Integrated Media Editor, Public Power Daily

Utility-scale solar power installations continue to serve as the main driver behind solar growth in the U.S., said GTM Research in a new quarterly report issued jointly with the Solar Energy Industries Association.

The U.S. installed 1,655 megawatts of solar power capacity during the first quarter of 2016, according to the U.S. Solar Market Insights report. The 2016 Q1 total was up 24 percent from the Q1 2015 total, the report said.

The cumulative number of solar installations brought online in the U.S. surpassed 1 million during the first quarter of 2016 and solar accounted for 64 percent of all new electric generating capacity brought online in the U.S.

GTM Research said residential installations remained relatively flat but still accounted for more than half a gigawatt of capacity for the fourth consecutive quarter.

An estimated 14.5 GW of new solar installations are expected to come online through 2016, 94 percent more than the total capacity brought online in 2015, the report said. Utility-scale installations are expected to continue to make up the majority of that capacity. 

The first quarter of 2016 was the 12th consecutive quarter in which utilities added at least 500 MW of solar power. The contracted solar pipeline currently totals more than 21 GW, GTM Research said. As a result, GTM Research said it expects another record year for the U.S. solar market in 2016.

With the extension of the federal investment tax credit in December 2015, more than 10 GW of utility-scale solar power has been rushed through the development cycle and is slated to come online this year, according to the report. But other factors are driving utility-scale growth, too.

Many utilities in major and emerging markets are buying solar power as a hedge against natural-gas price volatility, the report said. This is bolstered by a low-price environment for solar — recent power purchase agreements have been signed at prices between $35/MWh and $50/MWh.