COVID-19 clouds build over US solar after upbeat 2019

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Image credit: Eric Carlson / Unsplash

US solar representatives are working to shed light on COVID-19 crisis impacts as reports on the ground indicate supply chains are being disrupted, stoking uncertainty for a sector just emerging from a strong 2019.

“It is evident that the COVID-19 pandemic is taking a toll on our industry. We are getting reports from our members about supply chain disruptions, project delays, sales challenges and more,” national solar body the SEIA said in a recently penned open letter.

The association – who is carrying out industry surveys to better understand impacts – warned the delays could see PV players fail to meet project deadlines, potentially triggering changes in tax treatment and eligibility for incentives.

US concerns on the implications of the escalating COVID-19 pandemic add a sombre note after solar's robust 2019. According to stats published this week by SEIA and consultancy Wood Mackenzie, the country installed 13.3 GWdc of PV last year, a 23% jump on the 10.6GW rolled out in 2018.

Top five US solar states in 2019

Rank 2019
1 California (3.124GWdc installed)
2 Texas (1.381GWdc installed)
3 Florida (1.377GWdc installed)
4 Arizona (909MWdc installed)
5 Georgia (880MWdc installed)
Source: Wood Mackenzie/SEIA U.S. solar market insight®

The year-on-year additions saw the US' installed PV capacity break the 76GWdc cumulative mark, a far cry from the 1GWdc reported in late 2009. They saw solar account for most (39.8%) capacity additions in the US last year, passing natural gas (32%) and wind (27%).

As in 2018, 2019 proved bountiful for residential solar operators. A mix of power outage concerns, solar-equipped new builds and other factors helped the segment achieve record roll-out of 2.8GWdc, with California (49% of all installs), Florida and Arizona (8% each) topping state charts.

By contrast, 2019’s non-residential picture was more mixed. The utility-scale segment saw installs of 8.4GWdc across the year – with a further, record contracted pipeline of 48.1GWdc – but some states, from California to Massachusetts and Minnesota, witnessed policy-driven installation delays.

COVID-19 opens new front in country of policy rows

The solar industry’s COVID-19 fact-finding mission emerges as virus cases pass the 3,400 mark nation-wide, with 68 reported deaths so far. The administration of president Donald Trump has come under fire over its handling of the pandemic, amid criticisms over delays with testing.

Over the past few months, the federal government has been urged not to add obstacles of its own to renewable progress. Trump’s appointees at federal energy watchdog FERC have been told not to aid fossil fuel incumbents at green energy’s expense, by setting obstacles in capacity market auctions.

For months, SEIA has waged a lobbying offensive against the so-called Section 201 tariffs for Chinese import barriers, enacted by Trump in 2018. The association’s new update shows prices of all solar components either stayed put or dipped over 2019, barring a minor rise for US mono PERC modules.

For US solar, another of 2019’s politically-charged fronts was R&D, with Trump’s latest budget proposals heralding funding cuts and scheme phase-outs. An attempt to set up a new solar R&D programme lies in limbo after the broader draft law it came in was paralysed by a procedural row.

The buoyancy of US residential solar has been apparent in the 2019 financial results released in recent weeks by top players. As documented by PV Tech, Sunrun, Vivint and Sunnova all boosted solar installs last year, while Tesla scored growth across its storage offering.

See here for more information on SEIA's full-year solar update and here to take part in the association's COVID-19 survey

The prospects and challenges of solar's new era in the US will take centre stage at Large Scale Solar USA 2020 (Austin, Texas, on 23-24 June 2020).

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