US solar industry defies predictions to post growth in 2020

By Dominic Ellis
Solar installations expected to increase by 43 percent y-o-y from 2019 with a record 19GW of new capacity installations this year...

US solar installations are expected to increase by 43 percent this year, just short of pre-pandemic forecasts, as the industry recovers quicker than expected from the virus-related slowdown, according to a report by the Solar Energies Industries Association (SEIA) and Wood Mackenzie.

According to the US Solar Market Insight Q4 2020 report, the country’s solar companies installed 3.8GW of new solar photovoltaic (PV) capacity in Q3, a 9 percent increase from Q2 installations, and a record 19GW of new solar capacity was installed this year.

“This report points to the incredible resilience of our companies and workers in the face of the pandemic and continued demand for clean, affordable electricity sources,” said Abigail Ross Hopper, President and CEO of the Solar Energy Industries Association. 

“It also speaks to our ability to support economic growth, even in our darkest moments. While solar will continue to grow, the next administration and Congress have an opportunity to help the solar industry reach its Solar+ Decade goals, creating hundreds of thousands of jobs and tackling the climate crisis.”

The report highlights that the residential solar market – which was the hardest hit by the business impacts of the pandemic – beat recovery expectations by growing 14 percent over Q2. However, it remained below Q1 levels.

“Logically, the states with the biggest installation declines in Q2 also had the biggest recoveries in Q3, such as New York and New Jersey where restrictions were substantial,” explains Michelle Davis, senior analyst at Wood Mackenzie. “Business model adaptations, such as virtual sales tactics and pricing promotions, continued to pay dividends through the summer and fall.”

The utility-scale market was the primary driver of Q3 installations with 2.7 GW of new capacity, which represents 70 percent of all solar capacity brought online in Q3. Sun Belt states lead the way on new capacity additions this year, the report states, pointing out that Texas and Florida have both installed more than 2GW through Q3 2020.

‘For perspective, that is nearly the amount of solar that each of those states installed over 2018 and 2019 combined. The utility-scale project pipeline ballooned to a record 69.2 GW, and the U.S. is now forecast to reach 100 GW of cumulative installed solar capacity by mid-2021,’ the report states.

Key figures

  • In Q3, the US solar market installed 3.8GWdc of solar PV, up 9 percent from Q2 as the industry began recovering from the worst impacts of the pandemic
  • A total of 9.5GWdc of new utility PV power purchase agreements was announced in Q3, bringing the contracted pipeline to a record total of 69 GWdc
  • Solar accounted for 43 percent of all new electricity generating capacity added in the US through Q3 this year, beating all other generation technologies
  • Wood Mackenzie forecasts a similar figure for annual growth in 2020, with more than 19 GWdc of installations expected
  • Forecasts for 2021-2025 put total solar installations above 107GWdc, a 10GWdc increase from last quarter driven primarily by healthy increases to the utility-scale solar pipeline
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