What's driving solar panel sales to all-time highs

What's driving solar panel sales to all-time highs

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The U.S. solar industry installed a record 6,201MW of capacity last year, delivering a 30 percent increase on 2013 as the sector continued to go from strength to strength.

The latest annual Market Insight report from the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA) and analyst firm GTM Research last week revealed solar accounted for 32 percent of new generating capacity added in 2014, outperforming both wind and energy and coal for the second year in a row.

The sector also continued to eat into gas' dominance of the U.S. energy market, as gas-fired power station's share of new capacity fell from 46 percent in 2013 to 42 percent last year. The report also confirmed that the reach of the U.S. solar market is continuing to expand, with the utility, commercial and residential sectors all delivering over 1GW of new capacity for the first time.

The residential sector performed particularly strongly, delivering growth in excess of 50 percent for the third year in succession, and taking it past the 1GW mark for the first time as a host of developers continued to expand offers that allow households to install solar arrays at no upfront cost.

The utility scale solar farm sector also grew by around 1GW to 3.9GW last year; however, the commercial installation market bucked the trend, contracting 6 percent last year to 1GW.

"Many factors have contributed to this trend, ranging from tight economics to difficulty financing small commercial installations," the report stated, adding that a recovery is likely this year as solar costs continue to fall.

Annual U.S. panel predictions
GTM Research

GTM Research predicted the U.S. solar PV market will deliver comparable growth this year, expanding 31 percent with the utility segment continuing to dominate the market and accounting for 59 percent of a forecast 8.1GW of new capacity.

"Solar PV was a $13.4 billion market in the U.S. in 2014, up from just $3 billion in 2009," said Shayle Kann, senior vice president at GTM Research in a statement. "And this growth should continue throughout 2015 thanks to falling solar costs, business model innovation, an attractive political and regulatory environment and increased availability of low-cost capital."

Solar is now approaching or has surpassed cost competitiveness with fossil fuels in a host of U.S. states across the south of the country.

However, Rhone Resch, SEIA president and chief executive, stressed that policy decisions still had a major role to play in driving the industry's expansion.

"Without question, the solar Investment Tax Credit (ITC) has helped to fuel our industry's remarkable growth," Resch said, referring to the solar developer tax breaks that have been the subject of repeated Congressional battles in recent years.

"Today the U.S. solar industry has more employees than tech giants Google, Apple, Facebook and Twitter combined. Since the ITC was passed in 2006, more than 150,000 solar jobs have been created in America, and $66 billion has been invested in solar installations nationwide.”

“We now have 20GW of installed solar capacity — enough to power 4 million U.S. homes — and we're helping to reduce harmful carbon emissions by 20 million metric tons a year. By any measurement, the ITC has been a huge success for both our economy and environment."

This article originally appeared on BusinessGreen