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Solar Industry's Exponential Growth in 2011 Indicates Healthy US PV Market

It wasn't too many years ago when the installing more than 1 gigawatt (GW) of solar PV in the U.S. in one year was a pipedream. But according to the latest U.S. Solar Market Insight Report, in 2011 the industry didn't just eek out more than 1 GW of solar: it blew that threshold away.

According to GTM research and Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA), authors of the report, the U.S. installed 1,855 MW (or 1.86 GW) of solar in 2011 and is expected to install a full gigawatt more than that in 2012: 2.8 GW. The report points to two important factors that drove the massive amount of installation in the U.S.  First, declining module prices meant that overall system prices dropped 20 percent.  Second, expiring solar power incentives, such as the 1603 Grant in Lieu of Tax Credit forced developers to begin projects before the end of 2011.  In the fourth quarter of 2011 alone, the industry installed 755 MW, up 115 percent from Q4 2010.

GTM Research and SEIA estimate the U.S. solar market’s total value surpassed $8.4 billion in 2011.

The report also looks at the concentrating solar power (CSP) market. While no new concentrating solar thermal electric capacity was brought online in 2011, a total of 10 concentrating PV projects came online. The year also saw healthy construction progress on a number of projects with some capacity expected to come online later in 2012 and a surge to come online in 2013. Today, more than 1,000 MW of CSP are under construction.

In addition the report highlights the U.S.’s growing share of the global installed PV capacity. In 2010, the U.S. held five percent of the world’s installed capacity, a number that grew to seven percent in 2011.  “In 2011, the market demonstrated why the U.S. is becoming a center of attention for global solar,” said Shayle Kann, Managing Director of GTM Research’s solar practice. Developers worldwide are eyeing the U.S. market as the next booming solar location. Up until now, Germany and Italy have installed the lion’s share of PV capacity. (See chart below, which shows the U.S. share of global PV installations.)

Finally, utility-scale projects really came into the spotlight in 2011. There were over 400 MW of utility PV completed in just Q4 2011, by far the highest of any quarter for this market segment, according to the report. Some 800 MW were installed in the commercial sector in 2011, led by the California and New Jersey, compared to 758 MW of utility PV and 297 MW of residential installations. Utility-scale project installations, primarily across states in the Southwest, nearly tripled 2010 totals. In the residential sector, California installed 114 MW, with New Jersey, Arizona, Hawaii, Pennsylvania and Colorado each contributing meaningfully to the residential total.

The U.S. Solar Market Insight Report is just one topic that will be discussed next week at PV America in San Jose, California.

Image: Green arrow going up via Shutterstock.

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Jennifer Runyon is chief editor of RenewableEnergyWorld.com and Renewable Energy World magazine, coordinating, writing and/or editing columns, features, news stories and blogs for the publications. She also serves as conference chair of Renewable ...

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