Solar outpaced other forms of electricity in the United States for the first time in 2016 in terms of new capacity additions.
It accounted for 38 percent of all new capacity additions in 2016, more than any other power source, according to a National Renewable Energy Laboratory report called “Utility-Scale Solar 2016” released in September. Focusing on new capacity additions, utility-scale solar was 2.5 times the volume of distributed solar in terms of market size.
Installed costs continue to fall. The average installed cost was $2.20 a watt AC (or $1.70 a watt DC) for projects completed in 2016. The least expensive 20 percent of projects in terms of cost were below $2.00 a watt AC, with the bottom of the range at $1.50 a watt AC. Projects using single-axis trackers cost 15¢ more per watt on average than fixed-tilt projects. NREL said there was less variation in costs from one state to the next in 2016.
PPA prices were mostly at or below $50 a megawatt hour with a few priced aggressively at around $30.
Adding storage helps with pricing. According to NREL, a 100-MW project in Arizona with a 30-megawatt, four-hour battery was able to command $45 a megawatt hour, with storage accounting for roughly a third of the price.
At the end of 2016, there were 121,400 megawatts of solar projects in interconnection queues in the United States, with 83,300 of that number added to queues during 2016.
Meanwhile, the US residential solar sector grew only 1 percent from Q1 to Q2 2017, according to the Solar Energy Industries Association. The sector was down 17 percent in Q2 year on year. Much of the growth was in new states like Texas, Utah and Florida, but was not enough to offset declines in other states. Residential rooftop companies have been focused on showing profits rather than continuing to stress rapid growth in number of installations, and they continue moving to direct sales of systems to customers in a gradual shift away from long-term contracts to supply power or lease systems to customers. Vivint aims to have 30 percent direct sales this year, up from 19 percent in 2016. Tesla reported that 37 percent of its customers opted for direct purchases in Q2 2017.
Non-residential solar grew 31 percent in Q2 2017 compared to the year before and is expected to grow 9 percent overall this year. Utility-scale solar accounted for 58 percent of all solar capacity additions in the second quarter.