US, California PV installs soaring

US PV installations will spike 166% in 2011 to 2.4GW, doubling the 80% growth seen in 2010, with California leading the way, according to new reports from IHS iSuppli

August 9, 2011 – US PV installations will spike 166% in 2011 to 2.4GW, doubling the 80% growth seen in 2010, with California leading the way, according to new reports from IHS iSuppli.

The number of PV installations will climb 25% this year to 49,000, according to the firm. Ground-mount installs make up a little more than half of US PV installs (1.4GW), well ahead of commercial projects (710MW) and residential installs (270MW).

After this year, though, IHS iSuppli predicts a big pullback in US PV install growth — to “only” 29% growth (to 3.1GW), tracking to about 5.5GW by 2015. Europe is expected to suffer a downturn in 2012, but the US will keep its growth thanks to US DoE loan guarantees to help large projects secure lower-cost capital.

Among US states, California is the unsurprising leader by a wide margin, accounting for just under 1GW this year (967MW), almost 4× as much as No.2 New Jersey (260MW) and No.3 Arizona (240MW). New Mexico (140MW) and Nevada (120MW) make the list decidedly Southwest top-heavy, with mostly East-coasters rounding out the top 10 (Pennsylvania, Florida, New York, North Carolina, Colorado).

US photovoltaic installation capacity forecast in MW. (Source: IHS iSuppli)

Many states project significant growth all the way to 2020, thanks to national Renewable Portfolio Standard regulations requiring increased use of renewable energy sources — Michigan, Kansas, and Washington all target 10%-20% of total power needs coming from RE by 2015-2020 (though iSuppli sees little progress made toward those goals so far). New mexico has some large projects that will help it reach 10% RE goals by 2020.

Where’s the fastest US PV growth? New York’s five-year CAGR through 2015 will top at 20%. Colorado, though, should grow the most, expanding a 5% RE usage in 2010 to 27% by 2020, representing 22% CAGR.

Mike Sheppard, analyst for photovoltaics at IHS, takes a closer look at California, the nation’s most populous and politically PV-supportive state. It should add another 1.2GW in 2012 (more than states 2-7 combined), tracking to a total of 8.4GW of installed capacity by 2015 — more than halfway to Gov. Jerry Brown’s commitment to 33% RE mix by 2020, which would be ~12MW. States roughly the same land-size, NM and AZ, will only have a third as much PV capacity (~mid-300MW range), iSuppli says. Outside the top-10 states, only 395MW will be added.

What makes CA so PV-friendly? It helps to be famously sun-kissed — LA’s NASA-measured insolation levels at 5.4 kWh/(m2/day) ranks second only slightly behind Honolulu (5.96 kWh/(m2/day)), and ahead of Phoenix (5.38 kWh/(m2/day), Las Vegas (5.3 kWh/(m2/day)), and Miami (5.26 kWh/(m2/day)). San Francisco’s Bay Area (5.08 kWh/(m2/day)) and “San Francisco proper” (4.89 kWh/(m2/day)) also score highly on insolation meters.

Beyond solar radiation, California is bursting with corporate PV activity, including R&D. iSuppli counts “at least 27” firms in the state involved in “solar-related activities” just in production of ingots, c-Si cells/modules, and thin-film cells/modules.

And the state’s solar projects are big, too: First Solar’s 550MW Topaz Solar farm northwest of LA, for starters. And in the pipeline are 55MW Niland Project (Imperial County), PG&E’s five-year, 500MW worth of projects in northern and central California; the Catalina Solar Project in Kern County; and Southern California Edison’s project to distribute power through commercial rooftops.

California cumuluative PV capacity and new installation forecast (in GW). (Source: IHS iSuppli)

California’s political support has been a huge boost to PV solar, if for no other reason than giving investors the confidence to back local projects, Sheppard noted. It could also give CA another benefit: consult for solar projects in other states, sharing its ahead-of-the-curve expertise similar to what Germany has done in Europe. Even local power utilities have chipped in to make CA the most solar PV friendly state.

All this has come at a cost, though. California’s budget wranglings have been front-page in recent years, “which if unresolved could lead to a downgrading of the state?s creditworthiness and make it more expensive for companies?including PV firms?to do business here,” Sheppard noted. Also needing fixing: the permitting system needs to be streamlined, similar to the practice of amending applications in progress if something snags the project’s progress, rather than requiring an entirely new application (and waiting period).

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