U.S. Solar Power Just Had Its Biggest Quarter in History


Some great news just came in. According to the U.S. Solar Market Insight report from the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA) and GTM Research, the U.S. solar industry just had its biggest quarter in history.

How much solar did we install?

When you account for residential, commercial, and utility-scale solar, the U.S. installed over 4000 megawatts (MW) of solar power in Q3 2016.

That’s enough to power 656,000 homes — if you estimate conservatively. It’s 1 MW of new solar power installed every 32 minutes. And it’s more solar — installed in just one quarter — than all the solar that had been installed in the U.S. up until 2010.

What drove this growth?

The price of solar has plummeted in recent years, and prices keep coming down, despite already being lower than ever. Just from Q2 to Q3 this year, the cost of residential solar fell 5.1%. In another first, Q3 2016 was the first time that the average cost for a residential solar system in the U.S. fell below $3 a watt. There have always been regional differences, but the country as a whole has never enjoyed such cheap solar.

Large corporate customers have also gotten on the solar bandwagon, ramping up procurement of offsite wholesale solar projects.

A few dips in the industry

Utility-scale solar is also enjoying price drops, with “dirt-cheap” PPA prices between $35/MWh and $60/MWh. However, some utilities over-procured in the last two years and are now scaling back.

In addition, the residential market is suffering from some over-saturation and “customer fatigue,” in areas where door-to-door salespeople have become the norm.

Still, GTM notes that neither of these signal the demise of solar, but should be seen as “signs of a segment figuring out how to grow in a maturing customer environment.”

GTM Research forecasts that cost reductions will continue through this decade, putting solar power at grid parity in most states.

Figures for Q3 2016

Annual U.S. Solar PV Installations, Q1 2010 - Q3 2016. Source: GTM Research
Annual U.S. Solar PV Installations, Q1 2010 – Q3 2016. Source: GTM Research

Some details on how solar did this past quarter:

  • The U.S. installed 4,143 MW of solar PV in Q3.
  • This was an increase of 99% over Q2 2016 and 191% over Q3 2015.
  • On average, 1 new MW of solar PV capacity came online every 32 minutes.
  • Between Q1 and Q3 2016, solar accounted for 39% of all new electric generating capacity that came online in the U.S. That put solar power in second place for all new generating capacity brought online in the country.
  • By the end of Q3, with the year not over, the U.S. had already broken its 2015 solar record.
  • California became the first state ever to add more than 1 gigawatt (GW) of utility solar PV in a single quarter.
  • Community solar was part of the growth in Q3. More community solar capacity was added in just Q3 than in all of 2015.
  • GTM Research forecasts that 14.1 GW of new solar PV installations will come online in 2016, up 88% over 2015. Over 70% of that new capacity will likely come from utility-scale solar.

Solar is here to stay

What do these numbers show? Solar is here to stay.

This should come as no surprise. Solar power does all this and more:

  • Saves money
  • Increases a home’s value
  • Creates jobs 12 times faster than the rest of the economy
  • Helps the environment
  • Saves water
  • Promotes energy independence
  • Boosts national security

Plus, we have enough solar for everyone. The sun is our most abundant resource, shining enough rays on the United States every day to more than power us for 10 years. This is not a resource we need to fight over — there’s more than enough for everyone on Earth.

So in this time of so much uncertainty, let’s be glad we have something to celebrate. Let’s keep solar power shining strong!