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Tariffs tripped up US solar market in Q3, but construction pipeline is growing

Installations of new solar capacity in the U.S. fell by 15% year over year in the third quarter as project developers delayed work due to market uncertainty created by new import tariffs that President Donald Trump imposed in January, industry analysts said in a Dec. 13 report.

However, even with the disruptions caused by duties on most imported solar cells and panels, the U.S. is expected to install about as much new solar capacity this year as it did in 2017, analysts at Wood Mackenzie Power and Renewables and the Solar Energy Industries Association, or SEIA, said in their quarterly U.S. Solar Market Insight Report.

Contributing to the market resilience are steps companies took to stockpile panels and sign contracts for years' worth of equipment before the new taxes were imposed, as well as solar policies China announced midyear that restricted project development there and unleashed a wave of excess inventory, which pushed down equipment prices globally.

The pipeline of solar projects under development in the U.S. grew by nearly 21% in the third quarter from the prior period, with many of the plants due online in 2019 and 2020, according to S&P Global Market Intelligence.

"If not for the tariffs, the U.S. solar market would undoubtedly look better today than it does now," SEIA President and CEO Abigail Ross Hopper said in a news release. "With smart policies in place, the potential for the solar industry is hard to overstate."

The U.S. installed 1,700 MW of new solar photovoltaic capacity in the third quarter, a decline of 15% from a year earlier and 20% from the prior quarter, SEIA and Wood Mackenzie Power and Renewables said. During the fourth quarter, analysts expect 3,500 MW of new solar installations in the utility-scale sector alone.

For the year, the U.S. is expected to install around 11,100 MW of new solar capacity, analysts said, with the market increasing to more than 14,000 MW of new installations annually by 2023.

Guidance the Internal Revenue Service issued in June clarifying the government's policy around solar tax credits should "further stimulate demand in [the] U.S.," Gener Miao, vice president of global sales and marketing at JinkoSolar Holding Co. Ltd., said.