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US solar market sees strongest Q1 ever, industry boosts forecast as costs fall despite Trump tariffs

The US installed 2.7 gigawatts of solar photovoltaics in the first quarter of 2019, marking the country’s strongest installation numbers ever in a first quarter as the industry’s predicted solar rebound is indeed taking place, and looks to continue.

The latest quarterly US Solar Market Insight Report from the Solar Energy Industries Association and Wood Mackenzie Power & Renewables reveals the bright trends. The 2.7 GW of solar installed in Q1 2019 is a 10% increase from Q1 2018.

Wood Mackenzie forecasts 25% growth in 2019 compared to 2018, with more than 13 GW of installations expected by year’s end — a rather sizable jump from the 14% growth in installations predicted earlier this year. Total installed U.S. PV capacity is expected to more than double over the next five years.

A deeper look at the numbers by market segment shows utility-scale installations are doing the brunt of the work, with 1.6 GW of utility PV capacity coming online in Q1 2019, making up 61% of quarterly capacity additions. In utility solar, 46% growth over 2018 is expected this year.

Florida’s solar development is the biggest reason for the jump, as that state alone boosted its five-year outlook from 6 GW to 9 GW, thanks to increased solar procurement from the likes of Florida Power & Light and Duke Energy.

Utility PV is also becoming more competitive with wind, as solar “begins to fall below the cost of wind on a levelized cost of energy (LCOE) basis in many traditional wind states” by the mid-2020s.

Residential solar was up 6% from Q1 2018 with 603 MW installed in Q1 2019. The report acknowledges challenges in expanding the market geographically beyond already-strong home solar states, but still sees growth continuing:

From 2019-2021, residential growth will range from 5%-20% due to both emerging markets with strong resource fundamentals like Florida and Texas, and markets where recent policy developments have increased our near-term forecasts. Maryland’s recent renewable portfolio standard increase, the removal of South Carolina’s net metering cap, and new incentive programs such as Illinois’ Adjustable Block Program will provide significant upside and growth to our residential forecasts over the next few years. Meanwhile, California’s new home solar mandate will also help to offset market penetration challenges beginning in 2020.

Non-residential installations are still down — an 18% drop from Q1 2018 — with the report attributing this to “state-level policy reforms and interconnection delays that continue to limit development opportunities.” But even so, the industry expects to see some of that offset through community solar mandates and recent policy developments in some states.

The report also notes that pricing fell in all market segments in Q1 2019, with prices now at historic lows across the board despite the Trump administration’s tariffs. Bifacial solar panels were recently granted an exemption from those tariffs, opening up a new avenue for utility-scale solar.

Adding to the good vibes, the US hit a milestone of 2 million solar installations in this year’s first quarter.

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