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Developers installed record solar capacity in Q3; Q4 could be bigger

Developers installed a record 4,143 MW of new solar photovoltaic capacity in the U.S. during the third quarter, and GTM Research expects installations during the final three months of 2016 to be even higher.

The third-quarter results were driven primarily by big utility-scale projects that were procured at a time when developers expected that the federal investment tax credit would expire this year. Congress extended the incentive late last year, setting the stage for a "massive wave" of project completions that should continue into the first half of 2017, said Cory Honeyman, associate director of U.S. solar at GTM Research, a Wood Mackenzie business.

An estimated 4,800 MW of utility-scale projects are expected to come online in the fourth quarter, according to GTM Research, bringing 2016 installations to about 14,100 MW of new solar capacity. That would represent an 88% increase over 2015.

President-elect Donald Trump's win in the November election has raised questions about renewable energy development in the years ahead. However, "coming off our largest quarter ever and with an extremely impressive pipeline ahead, it's safe to say the state of the solar industry here in America is strong," Tom Kimbis, interim president of the Solar Energy Industries Association, said in a news release.

SEIA and GTM Research published the results in the groups' "Q4 2016 U.S. Solar Market Insight" report.

The third-quarter jump in installations, which was an increase of 99% over the prior quarter and 191% from a year earlier, came despite a slowdown in the residential sector.

Through the first nine months of 2016, solar accounted for 39% of all new electric generating capacity that was brought online in the U.S., with 14 states each installing more than 100 MW of new capacity, according to SEIA and GTM Research.