Rooftop Solar Installations Gaining So Far in 2014

The Dave Johnson coal-fired power plant, central Wyoming | Photo: Greg Goebel/Flickr/Creative Commons License

More solar was installed on residential rooftops than in big commercial settings during the first quarter of 2014, according to a trade report released Wednesday.

According to the Q1 2014 U.S. Solar Market Insight Report, released this week by GTM Research and the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA), the U.S. saw 232 megawatts' worth of residential rooftop solar installed from January through March of this year, while commercial installations, such as those atop big-box stores and warehouses, lagged slightly behind at 225 megawatts.

Utility-scale solar installations, a.k.a. those gigantic solar panel arrays out in the desert or on converted farmland, neatly outstripped both commercial and residential installations put together, at 873 megawatts installed in the first three months of the year.

The last time residential solar installations outstripped commercial projects was in 2002, according to SEIA, well before the current boom in solar started. The report's authors expect commercial installations to gain steam later in the year, but say the long-term trend likely favors household rooftop over commercial.

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Those figures add up to 1,330 megawatts of solar photovoltaic capacity added from New Year's through the end of March, up nearly 80 percent from the same period last year.

Solar thermal had a record quarter as well, mainly due to two big plants coming onto the grid. The Ivanpah Solar Electric Generating System at the California-Nevada border officially brought its 392 megawatts online in February, while the 250-megawatt Genesis Solar project in eastern Riverside County came all the way online in April.

All in all, nearly three quarters of new electrical generating capacity built in the first three months of 2014 is solar-powered, and SEIA expects that the United States will have 6,600 total megawatts of new photovoltaics and 857 megawatts of new solar thermal by the end of the year.

"Solar energy is now generating enough clean, reliable and affordable electricity to effectively power three million American homes, while creating thousands of new jobs nationwide and pumping nearly $15 billion a year into the U.S. economy," said SEIA President and CEO Rhone Resch in a press release.

The report also includes reason for Californians to glow with pride: our state led the nation in solar panel installations in 2013, with 2,621 megawatts of new solar PV installed. Arizona, the runner up, lagged far behind with just 421 megawatts of new PV. In fact, Californians put about as much solar on their roofs at home as Arizonans did in residential, commercial, and utility-scale settings combined.

For ongoing environmental coverage in March 2017 and afterward, please visit our show Earth Focus, or browse Redefine for historic material.
KCET's award-winning environment news project Redefine ran from July 2012 through February 2017.

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