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U.S. Solar Sees Record Expansion in 2020

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U.S. Department of Energy

Neither the COVID-19 pandemic nor policy uncertainty held U.S. utility-scale solar back in 2020, with a record year on track to see more than 19 gigawatts of new capacity installed—enough to power 3.6 million homes. 

That’s the top-line takeaway from the latest Solar Market Insight report, writes Greentech Media. The report is produced annually by Wood Mackenzie on behalf of the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA).

“Analysts expect 2020 to surpass 2016 as a record year for large-scale solar projects,” writes Greentech. The report found that solar “accounted for 43% of electricity-generating capacity additions in the U.S. so far this year, even as the industry struggled to work around coronavirus shutdown orders and pandemic-adjusted timelines.” 

Noting that the industry “boosted Q3 installations 9% over the pandemic-constrained second quarter,” SEIA {resident and CEO Abigail Ross Hopper cast rebound as a testament to solar’s resilience “even in [its] darkest moments.” 

And while the election of “pro-clean-energy” Joe Biden is a definite plus for the industry, 2021 is expected to be a big year “independent of any additional policy help,” given that the federal Investment Tax Credit is already slated to remain at a steady 10% in 2022 for third-party-owned systems. 

Despite the pandemic, Greentech writes that “large-scale solar additions continued to buoy overall solar deployment numbers as utilities, states, and corporations signed contracts for big projects” in 2020.

Residential installations “experienced more significant market whiplash,” however, dropping a record 23% from Q1 to Q2, then rebounding 14% in Q3.

“The biggest fluctuations cropped up in states with the strictest coronavirus shutdown orders, such as New York, California, and New Jersey,” adds Greentech.

Aiding in the Q3 recovery was a shift to online sales, as well as promotions and rebates. As well, “many jurisdictions also allowed solar installations to continue despite restrictions on non-essential activities.” 

Given the new stability, “analysts now expect 7% annual growth for residential installations, a figure just below the level of the forecasts laid out prior to the pandemic.”

The resilience of the industry belies the impact on much of the solar work force, however, with the industry as a whole losing “tens of thousands of jobs.” 

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