Some common themes regarding the current state of the US solar market emerged this week at the Solar Power Generation Congress 2014 in San Diego, where I chaired and moderated the keynote session and the debt finance.
In the US the highest growth is expected to continue in the already robust Southwest and Northeast given that the fundamentals--load growth and utility rates--are not expected to change in the short term. California Energy Commissioner, David Rochschild, remarked that California remains enthusiastically supportive of solar development. There is rising promise in areas of the Southeast US, especially Georgia and North Carolina, which mostly is resulting from the growing pricing competitiveness of solar technology and not as much from policy developments in those states.
It is undeniable that many global forces will have to be watched for their impact on the US market. Economies of scale in Chinese manufacturing will be out balanced by demand in the next couple of years resulting in flat or somewhat increased prices in the short term. However, as Robert Blair of GCL Solar noted, solar is "a process industry" where manufacturers quickly will increase their capacity to match demand. The Solarworld trade cases and potential tariff wars do pose a threat to the industry's short term growth rates and need to be carefully tracked.
Consensus seems to be that the momentum in residential and other distributed generation is unstoppable. Customers want on-site generation and the costs of distributed generation are competitive. Panelists repeatedly asked versions of the question, "Will utilities be the agents of change or dragged along?"
Presentations and interactions at the conference confirmed several facts--(1) a significant reduction in financeable utility assets (which results in increased value for those that exist), (2) increasing apprehension over the upcoming ITC cliff in 2016 and concern that the solar market may be subject to price fluctuations and instability experienced by the wind industry, (3) increasing asset aggregation and creation of yield vehicles especially for small scale utility and commercial scale distributed generation projects and (4) optimism about the continued growth in the residential installations and the industry's ability to implement a diversified array of financing tools.