The United States added 10.6 gigawatts of new solar photovoltaic capacity in 2018, down slightly on that installed in 2017 but with an expectation that the market will rebound in the years ahead.
These are the high-level findings from the US Solar Market Insight 2018 Year-in-Review Report from Wood Mackenzie Power & Renewables and the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA) published Wednesday, which also show that the country’s utility-scale solar photovoltaic (PV) sector will grow at levels exceeding those originally forecast before the Trump administration imposed a 30% tariff on imported solar cells and modules.
“The solar industry experienced growing pains in 2018, in large part due to the unnecessary tariffs that were imposed on solar cells and modules, but this report still finds significant reason for optimism,” said SEIA’s president and CEO, Abigail Ross Hopper. “The total amount of solar installed in America is on track to more than double in the next five years, proving solar’s resiliency and its economic strength. It’s clear, this next decade is going to be one of significant growth.”
The US residential sector rebounded after a year in which the sector contracted by 15%, growing by 7% in 2018. The US residential sector has now seen five consecutive quarters of modest growth, with the fourth quarter of 2018 resulting in the largest quarter for the sector in two years, and nearly 315,000 households adding solar for the year. On the other hand, the US non-residential sector declined by 8%, while the utility-scale sector also saw a slight contraction due to the impacts of the Section 201 tariff uncertainty which abounded earlier in the year.
All in all, solar PV accounted for 29% of all new electricity generating capacity additions — a lower share compared to 2017 due to a surge in new natural-gas projects earlier in the year.
“After the residential solar freefall of 2017, growth in 2018 was driven by a more diverse mixture of national and regional installers than in previous years,” said Austin Perea, senior solar analyst at Wood Mackenzie Power & Renewables. “With a pivot toward more efficient sales channels, both national and regional installers exceeded expectations in California and Nevada, which drove the lion’s share of residential growth in 2018.”
Despite mixed results for 2018, the Wood Mackenzie and SEIA report nevertheless predicts stronger growth in its forecasts from 2020 to 2022. Total installed solar PV capacity is expected to increase in the US by 14% in 2019 with annual installations reaching 15.8 gigawatts (GW) in 2021. Meanwhile, projects for utility-scale solar from 2020 to 2022 now exceed forecasts originally made before the imposition of the Section 201 tariffs. According to Colin Smith, a senior solar analyst at Wood Mackenzie Power & Renewables who covers the utility-scale market, Wood Mackenzie’s utility-scale forecast for 2020 is 8% higher than its fourth-quarter 2017 forecast, while its 2021 forecast is 19% higher. Overall, Wood Mackenzie increased its five-year forecast for utility-scale solar PV by 2.3 GW since the fourth quarter of 2018.
“It’s absolutely not apples-to-apples, but to me that’s a really important message,” said Colin Smith. “Not only has the market recovered and done really well despite the tariffs, it’s actually to the point where we expect more solar — at least on the utility-scale solar side — than we did in the pre-tariff conditions.”