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U.S. Solar Energy Installations Reach Record High in First Quarter

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U.S. Solar Energy Installations Reach Record High in First Quarter

Solar Energy Industries Association

GTM Research and the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA) today release U.S. Solar Market Insight: 1st Quarter 2013, the definitive analysis of solar power markets in the U.S., with strategic state-specific data for 28 U.S. states and the District of Columbia.

 This quarter’s report finds that the U.S. installed 723 megawatts (MW) in Q1 2013, which accounted for more than 48 percent of all new electric capacity installed in the U.S. last quarter. Overall, these installations represent the best first quarter of any given year for the industry. In addition, the residential and utility market segments registered first-quarter highs with 164 MW and 318 MW respectively.

Alpine Solar Project, located in Lancaster, CA, became the first operational, large-scale solar project in Los Angeles County in February 2013. SEIA.

“We are on the cusp of a new solar revolution in the U.S., driven by the rapid expansion of distributed generation,” said Shayle Kann, vice president of research at GTM. “Installations will speed up over the next four years as projects become economically preferable to retail power in more locations. However, changes to net metering and electricity rate structures could serve as the market's primary barrier to adoption.”



As explored in greater detail in the report, the residential market remains a highlight for U.S. solar with 53 percent year-over-year growth. Unlike the non-residential and utility markets, residential solar has not exhibited seasonality and market volatility on a national basis; quarterly growth in the U.S. residential market has ranged from four percent to 21 percent in 12 of the past 13 quarters.



Furthermore, third-party owned (TPO) residential systems continue to be a major storyline in the market. In key states of California and Arizona, for example, TPO systems accounted for 67 percent and 86 percent respectively of all residential photovaltic (PV) installed in Q1 2013. 

In fact, the California residential market had a record quarter, installing more new PV capacity than ever before, and for the first time was greater than the non-residential market.

This is largely driven by increased “retail rate” parity in major utility territories, where a residential PV system can provide a discount at retail electricity rates with few or no incentives other than the 30 percent federal investment tax credit.

 Percentage of New Residential Installations Owned by Third Party in California, Arizona, Colorado and Massachusetts, Q1 2011–Q1 2013
.

Looking at the market on the whole, U.S. Solar Market Insight: 1st Quarter 2013 forecasts 4.4 gigawatts (GW) of PV to be installed by the end of 2013, growing to nearly 9.2 GW annually in 2016. GTM Research and SEIA have increased each year’s forecast marginally from past editions of the report, due largely to increasingly bullish expectations for the residential market and the near-term opportunity it offers. 

Despite the fact that little concentrating solar power (CSP) capacity came online during Q1 2013, CSP is also expected to make major gains by the end of the year, adding more than 900 MW of capacity. Combined, the U.S. is expected to add 5.3 GW of solar electric capacity in 2013, enough to power more than 960,000 average American homes. 



“The U.S. now has more than 8,500 MW of cumulative installed solar electric capacity, enough to power more than 1.3 million American households,” said Rhone Resch, president and CEO of SEIA.

“This sustained growth is enabling the solar industry to create thousands of good American jobs and to provide clean, affordable energy for more families, businesses, utilities and the military than ever before," said Resch. "This growth simply would not have occurred without consistent, long-term policies that have helped to ensure a stable business environment for our nation’s 5,600 solar companies—many of them small businesses.”



Key Report Findings

:

  •  PV installations totaled 723 MW in Q1 2013, up 33 percent over Q1 2012

  • Cumulative operating PV capacity in the U.S. now stands at 7.9 GW
  • 
The residential market grew 53 percent over Q1 2012 and 11 percent over Q4 2012, continuing its streak of consistent incremental quarterly growth

  • The non-residential market shrank 20 percent on both a quarterly and annual basis, which reflects slow demand across a number of major markets
  • 
The utility market more than doubled year-over-year, with 24 utility PV projects completed in Q1 2013
  • 
The average residential PV system price fell below $5.00 per watt, while the average non-residential system price fell below $4.00 per watt


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A plume of smoke from wildfires burning in the Angeles National Forest is seen from downtown Los Angeles on Aug. 29, 2009 in Los Angeles, California. Kevork Djansezian / Getty Images

California is bracing for rare January wildfires this week amid damaging Santa Ana winds coupled with unusually hot and dry winter weather.

High winds, gusting up to 80- to 90 miles per hour in some parts of the state, are expected to last through Wednesday evening. Nearly the entire state has been in a drought for months, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor, which, alongside summerlike temperatures, has left vegetation dry and flammable.

Utilities Southern California Edison and PG&E, which serves the central and northern portions of the state, warned it may preemptively shut off power to hundreds of thousands of customers to reduce the risk of electrical fires sparked by trees and branches falling on live power lines. The rare January fire conditions come on the heels of the worst wildfire season ever recorded in California, as climate change exacerbates the factors causing fires to be more frequent and severe.

California is also experiencing the most severe surge of COVID-19 cases since the beginning of the pandemic, with hospitals and ICUs over capacity and a stay-at-home order in place. Wildfire smoke can increase the risk of adverse health effects due to COVID, and evacuations forcing people to crowd into shelters could further spread the virus.

As reported by AccuWeather:

In the atmosphere, air flows from high to low pressure. The setup into Wednesday is like having two giant atmospheric fans working as a team with one pulling and the other pushing the air in the same direction.
Normally, mountains to the north and east of Los Angeles would protect the downtown which sits in a basin. However, with the assistance of the offshore storm, there will be areas of gusty winds even in the L.A. Basin. The winds may get strong enough in parts of the basin to break tree limbs and lead to sporadic power outages and sparks that could ignite fires.
"Typically, Santa Ana winds stay out of downtown Los Angeles and the L.A. Basin, but this time, conditions may set up just right to bring 30- to 40-mph wind gusts even in those typically calm condition areas," said AccuWeather Senior Meteorologist Mike Doll.

For a deeper dive:

AP, LA Times, San Francisco Chronicle, Washington Post, Weather Channel, AccuWeather, New York Times, Slideshow: New York Times; Climate Signals Background: Wildfires, 2020 Western wildfire season

For more climate change and clean energy news, you can follow Climate Nexus on Twitter and Facebook, sign up for daily Hot News, and visit their news site, Nexus Media News.

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