US solar growth rates steady as market surpasses 10GW in 2013

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Blistering growth rates of US solar may be showing signs of levelling off even though installation levels remain strong and cumulative capacity will surpass 10GW by the end of the year, according to new figures released today by GTM Research with the Solar Energy Industries Association.

Across all three market segments, 832MW of PV was installed in the second quarter of 2013, representing a 15% growth over the previous quarter and a 1.5% increase year on year, and the second best quarter ever.

The utility sector added 452MW of PV installations, a jump of 42% over last quarter while the residential market broke its streak of incremental quarterly growth with a flat quarter. In the commercial market, only 13 out of the 28 states tracked in the report showed quarterly growth.

However, the report forecasts a resumption of growth in the second half of 2013, with 4.4GW of PV expected to come online this year, up from 3.3GW in 2012, an overall annual growth rate of 30%, down from 76% in 2012 compared with 2011.

Shayle Kann, vice president at GTM Research, said: “The market is continuing to grow, there's no question there. The growth is certainly more incremental than it used to be. We're used to see the market doubling – we're past the point where that's happening.

“The commercial market is having a tough time in the US. It's a confluence of a number of state markets going through a cyclical downturn all at the same time. It doesn't necessarily speak to a rough future for commercial solar in the US.”

Commercial markets in New Jersey and Massachusetts have been slowing down because of the solar renewable energy certificate markets and Arizona which is dealing with a “hangover from a reduction in incentives”, while Hawaii was facing an industry first with circuit saturation, he said.

Despite flat growth for residential installations Kann said that states like California were in a transition phase where state-level incentives were reducing but installations were still on the rise because of lower costs and a utility rate structure that charged high prices for large usage. Other states, possibly in the north-east where electricity prices are also high, could also follow, he said.

“There are significant volumes getting installed even outside of any state incentive programme,” he said. “That isn't going to be true everywhere and California is probably the first state where that's happening in any volume. But that's a big deal if it continues to spread out to other states because historically the state level incentives have been both the driving factor and also the ceiling on any market.”

Overall, the second quarter was somewhat softer than expected, but anecdotal evidence combined with preliminary data suggest that Q3 will be substantially stronger and bring the US share of global solar installations to a high of 13%, up from 5% in 2008, the report said.

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