Record-breaking year for US solar power

One third of all current US solar PV capacity came online in 2014, representing a record breaking year for the industry but the growth could be unsustainable.

In total, more than 6.2GW of PV capacity was added, a year-on-year increase of 30%, according to a state-of-the-sector report from the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA)

Installed costs also fell, with residential systems going from $3.83 per watt in Q1 to $3.48 in Q4, while commercial costs fell from $2.53 per watt in Q1 to $2.25 per watt in Q4.

A utility-scale solar system can now reportedly be built for less than it cost to buy a single solar panel in 2011. 

Solar CSP also enjoyed a bumper year adding 767MW in 2014. All solar projects completed in 2014 represent $17.8 billion in investment ($13.4 billion in PV and $4.4 billion in CSP).


Transatlantic tribulations

The booming US market lends itself to comparisons with the UK, where the utility-scale solar market is “driving a European resurgence,” according to a recent report.

However, the two nations also face similar problems, namely regulatory uncertainty and diminishing subsidies. Where the UK market was ‘blindsided’ by its inclusion in the Contracts for Difference auction rather than the Renewable Obligation shceme, the US market could also see its subsidies slashed.

The 30% investment tax credit, which provides a rebate of 30% of the cost of a solar installation, will decline to 10% for commercial projects in 2017 and expire completely for individuals.

It is reportedly unlikely the US Government will renew the subsidy because the rapid proliferation of solar farms makes it too expensive; another familiar story for UK developers.

Recent UK growth may be unsustainable according to Wiki-Solar, driven as it is, by “a flood of projects racing to beat legislative changes”. Likewise in the US, analyst GTM Research projects installations to fall by 57% in 2017.

Brad Allen

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