Solar photovoltaic panels with bright sun, blue sky background

U.S. electric utility purchases of solar energy soared in the first half of 2018, despite the Trump administration’s tariff on imported solar panels. In fact, 8.5 gigawatts (GW) of utility solar projects were procured in the first half of 2018, according to a report by report by Wood Mackenzie Power & Renewables, enough solar electricity to power approximately 1.4 million homes. It is good news for the solar energy industry.

Why the Utility Solar Market Is Significant

The market for utility-grade solar photovoltaic (PV) technology is important to follow because utility solar installations comprise over 50 percent of the total solar energy market and are instrumental in large-scale solar energy deployment. What distinguishes utility solar installations is that the power is sold to wholesale utility buyers and not retail consumers as with residential solar installation.

Utility Solar Energy Development Grows

There are now 23.9 gigawatts (GW) of utility solar PV in development, which is the highest in history.

To put this in perspective, more utility solar installations were announced in the first nine months of 2018 than were installed in 2014 and 2015 combined. Although demand has certainly grown, the industry has also encountered some hurdles.

Unpredictability in energy policies stalled the utility solar market in 2017 in preparation for anticipated solar tariff and shifting supply. Now that the tariff is in place, there is less uncertainty, although the tariff is moderately driving up project costs. Many solar farm installations were delayed while developers waited for information on the details of the upcoming solar tariff and the related cost implication. Once the tariff was announced at a lower rate than some feared, demand spiked as stalled projects began to move forward.


Global Solar Panel Supply Grows as China Unexpectedly Pulls Subsidies

Solar panel prices have fallen more quickly than anticipated due to China suddenly pulling back renewable energy subsidies in June, resulting in an oversupply of PV modules on the global market. “When the industry talks about China, it’s always about how demand in the region exceeds expectations,” said Jade Jones, a senior solar analyst at GTM Research. “That is not going to be the case anymore.”

The U.S. solar tariff has had only a moderate impact on the solar energy industry, and Q2 2018 prices are at or below the lowest historical solar PV costs. In fact, solar energy prices have fallen by more than 70 percent since 2010, which has fueled significant solar energy deployment and allowed solar energy to compete on cost with natural gas and other forms of new power generation. Wood Mackenzie Power & Renewables lowered its utility PV forecasts for 2018 to 2023 by 8 percent compared to before the tariff was announced, showing that the tariff is likely to hinder falling PV prices but not dramatically.

In other words, solar has some bright days ahead.

By Sarah Lozanova

Sarah Lozanova is an environmental journalist and copywriter and has worked as a consultant to help large corporations become more sustainable. She is the author of Humane Home: Easy Steps for Sustainable & Green Living, and her renewable energy experience includes residential and commercial solar energy installations. She teaches green business classes to graduate students at Unity College and holds an MBA in sustainable management from the Presidio Graduate School.