• Developers added 7.3 gigawatts, surpassing new natural gas
  • California, North Carolina continue to lead, trade group says

Solar power developers added a record 7.3 gigawatts of capacity in the U.S. last year, up 17 percent from 2014 and surpassing natural gas installations for the first time.

Residential installations climbed 66 percent, the fastest-growing segment, and accounted for 29 percent of all photovoltaic systems, according to a report Monday from GTM Research and the Washington-based Solar Energy Industries Association. California, North Carolina and Nevada were again the top three solar states. Utah jumped from 23rd to 7th, while New Jersey slipped to 10th from sixth.

The gains reflect the growing demand for clean energy sources as the U.S. and other nations seek to curb greenhouse gas emissions, as well as falling prices that make solar power more competitive with gas.

Total U.S. solar installations now exceed 25 gigawatts, equal to about one quarter of the country’s nuclear fleet, and up from just 2 gigawatts five years ago.

Rhone Resch, chief executive officer for the trade group, said a recent extension of tax credits for solar energy will help increase demand for at least the next few years.

Last year “was a monumental year for us,” Resch said in an interview. “What’s most amazing is that we’re just getting started.”

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