The U.S. solar industry just experienced a quarter of record-breaking growth, with 4,143 megawatts (or million watts) of solar capacity added between July and September. That’s a 99 percent increase over the previous quarter, and a 191 percent increase over the same time period last year.
Those numbers come from a quarterly report issued by the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA) and market analysis firm GTM Research. According to the report, an average of one new megawatt of solar generating capacity came online every 32 minutes between July and September. From the beginning of the year through September, new solar capacity represented 39 percent of all new electric generating capacity in the United States – second only to natural gas in terms of the share of new electric capacity.
Much of that growth came due to utility-scale solar installations; residential solar, in contrast, has steadily fallen over the last year, due in part to slowdown in major markets like California. But Tom Kimbis, interim SEIA president, told the Washington Post that he wasn’t concerned about the slowdown in residential solar, and said that as markets adjust, he expects to see residential solar installations bounce back to normal levels.
Recent gains in the industry seem poised to continue: The report notes that the fourth quarter of the year is on pace to break the record-setting growth of the third quarter. Some of the boom can be attributed to uncertainty surrounding key federal tax credits supporting solar, which were set to expire in 2017. Companies looking to capitalize on these credits tried hard to push through solar projects in 2016 – but with Congress choosing to extend the tax credit, companies can now push some projects into 2017 or later.
“We’re seeing the beginning of an unprecedented wave of growth that will occur throughout the remainder of 2016, specifically within the utility PV segment,” Cory Honeyman, GTM Research associate director of U.S. solar research said in a press release. “With more than 10 gigawatts of utility PV currently under construction, the second half of this year and the first half of 2017 are on track to continue breaking records for solar capacity additions.”
And those gains, according to SEIA’s Kimbis, are likely to continue even after President-elect Donald Trump takes office. Trump has filled several topcabinet positions with people tied to the fossil fuel industry, and has promised to end federal spending on renewable energy research. But as long as federal tax credits for solar remain in place – something that passed with bipartisan support the last time it came up in Congress – the solar industry expects that market forces and state-level policies will have a larger effect on solar growth than federal policy.
“We do not anticipate the Trump presidency impacting negatively or positively the growth of solar,” Kimbis told the Washington Post. “In fact, we think that no matter who’s in the White House, the solar industry is going to continue to grow tremendously.”
Even Trump voters support the growth of clean energy: According to a post-election poll conducted by the Conservative Energy Network, 75 percent of Trump voters think that the U.S. should take steps to accelerate the development and use of clean energy. Among renewable options, Trump voters were especially supportive of solar, with 61 percent saying that they want to see more emphasis on solar when it comes to domestic energy policy. And historically conservative states have also had success embracing solar power – Arizona and North Carolina, both states Trump won in November, rank second and third in the country for installed solar capacity.