Sustainable Energy

US solar installations shot up last year, but coronavirus could have an impact going forward

Key Points
  • The U.S. solar market installed over 13 gigawatts of capacity in 2019.
  • The COVID-19 pandemic poses a challenge to the sector, however.  
Robert Nickelsberg | Archive Photos | Getty Images

The U.S. solar market installed 13.3 gigawatts (GW) of capacity in 2019, a 23% rise compared to the year before, new figures show.

According to a report by the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA) and Wood Mackenzie Power & Renewables, solar represented almost 40% of new electricity generating capacity added in the U.S. last year.

The cumulative operating photovoltaic capacity – the running total – in the U.S. now stands at more than 76 GW. "Photovoltaic" refers to a way of directly converting light from the sun into electricity. Looking ahead, Wood Mackenzie is forecasting annual growth of 47% for this year, with almost 20 GW of installations.

Potential headwinds loom on the horizon, however. The SEIA said it was "closely monitoring changes to the industry as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. As of the release of this publication, the full impacts of the coronavirus outbreak on the solar industry are still developing."

The SEIA added that the "dynamic nature of the outbreak" meant it was "too early to incorporate any changes into our outlooks with enough certainty."

"Even as tariffs have slowed our growth, we've always said that the solar industry is resilient, and this report demonstrates that," Abigail Ross Hopper, the SEIA's president and CEO, said in a statement Tuesday.

"We know anecdotally that the COVID-19 pandemic is starting to impact delivery schedules and that it could affect demand for solar as well as our ability to meet project completion deadlines based partly on new labor shortages."

Solar is not the only renewable energy sector to be affected by the coronavirus. Last month, Wood Mackenzie said the outbreak could have a significant impact on the wind energy industry in China.

At the time, the research and consultancy firm said the virus had "brought much of China's wind turbine component production to a standstill in recent weeks."