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Record Solar Installations Outpace Natural Gas in 2015

Confirming expectations, solar PV installations broke multiple records in 2015, according to figures released by GTM Research in advance of the U.S. Solar Market Insight Report. In total, the solar industry installed 7,286 megawatts (MW) of new capacity, which accounts for an impressive 17 percent annual growth. To put the solar industry’s growth in perspective, aggregate U.S. solar installations can currently produce more than 25 gigawatts (GW) of energy, which compares to just 2 GW in 2010. Investors and potential residential producers should take note, because with the surprise extension of U.S. tax credits in December, solar energy’s rise is sure to continue for the remainder of the decade.

Table: GTM Research / SEIA U.S. Solar Market Insight report

In a symbolic milestone, new solar installations surpassed natural gas installations for the first time, which is significant because politicians and the natural gas industry have long marketed the fossil fuel as a “bridge fuel” to renewable energy.Perhaps we’re closer to crossing that bridge than previously thought.

When broken down by source, residential solar continued to recover its share of the solar market in 2015, sporting a year-over-year rate of 66 percent, which represents its highest new installation share since 2009. Meanwhile, the industrial solar sector—long the driver of the U.S. solar market—installed 4 GW and grew 6 percent. By comparison, non-residential, non-industrial solar installations, often seated on top of big-box stores, storage sheds and office buildings, remained unfortunately flat, installing slightly more than 1 GW of capacity.


 Table: GTM Research / SEIA U.S. Solar Market Insight report

In 2016, solar energy advocates should support continued national capacity growth while arguing for a larger, national distribution of production. Currently, 87 percent of new installations occurred in only 10 states, according to Shayle Kann, a senior vice president of GTM Research. Of these, California led, while North Carolina’s solar industry boom kept that state in second. Solar industries in Nevada, Massachusetts, and New York rounded out the top five for new installations by GW. Because state policies, such as net metering, are particularly influential in spurring or hampering local solar markets, investors and home-producers should research local solar legislation and advocate for renewable production models. 

Once again, the overall news is positive for the solar industry. As installation prices continue to fall, 2016 will likely continue to smash records as renewable energy’s share of the U.S. market continues to grow. The full U.S. Solar Market Insight Report will be available on March 9th along with detailed projections from Greentech Media.    

Josh Brewer is an Assistant Editor at MOTHER EARTH NEWS who covers Renewable Energy, Green Homes, Omega Fatty Acids Nutrition, and Nature and Environment.