U.S solar market: Record-setting year with a chance of storm clouds ahead

The U.S. solar market has had a record-setting year so far with more than 1 gigawatt of photovoltaics installed in the first three quarters of 2011. Next year, might not be so rosy.
Written by Kirsten Korosec, Contributor

The U.S. solar market has had a record-setting year so far with more than 1 gigawatt of grid-connected photovoltaics installed in the first three quarters of 2011, thanks largely to a precipitous drop in prices and several utility-scale solar project completions, according to a report released today by Solar Energy Industries Association and GTM Research.  In the third quarter alone, 492 MW of PV were installed, representing 140 percent growth from the same period last year.

Next year, on the other hand, might not be so rosy. The potential expiration of 1603 Treasury Program, a federal cash grant program that has spurred installations, as well as possible import duties on Chinese cells and modules could have a wrenching, momentum-crushing effect on the U.S. solar market.

If module prices continue to fall, residential solar installation may increase. However, it also will likely mean further consolidation within the solar manufacturing industry as panel makers struggle to remain competitive.

The good news

The data within the report does provide a pretty positive present day picture of the U.S. solar market. Here are a few of the highlights:

  • The residential market, which had declined for two consecutive quarters, grew 21 percent from the previous period;
  • Cumulative grid-connected PV in the U.S. is now 3.1 GW, 10 times the size of the nation's solar capacity in 2005. That's enough to power 600,000 homes.
  • The utility market installed more than 200 MW in the third quarter, more than the entire market in every quarter through Q3 2010.
  • Four concentrating solar projects representing more than 600 MW of capacity secured financing in the third quarter;
  • More than 1,200 MW of concentrating solar projects are under construction.

Trends in U.S. solar

A few items stood out in the SEIA/GTM Research report, including the decline of commercial installations caused by a downturn in big solar states including California, New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Arizona. These states made up well over 50 percent of installations in the first half of the year. Meaning, for the solar installations to continue its upward trajectory, other emerging markets will have to pick up the pace. States with the potential to keep the solar installation momentum alive, includes Massachusetts, Colorado, Ohio, Tennessee and Hawaii.

Photo: BrightSource Energy


This post was originally published on Smartplanet.com

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