While still a tiny slice of domestic power generation, the U.S. solar power industry is experiencing unprecedented growth, according to a study released March 14 by the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA).
The U.S. solar energy industry installed a record 1,855 MW of photovoltaic (PV) capacity in 2011, more than doubling the previous annual record of 887 MW in 2010, according to the latest U.S. Solar Market Insight report. The record amount of installations represents a 109% growth rate in 2011, according to the study.
It is the first time the U.S. solar market has topped one gigawatt (1,000 MW) in a single year. In the fourth quarter of 2011 alone, the industry installed 755 MW, up 115% from the last quarter of 2010, for a second consecutive record-breaking quarter. GTM Research and the SEIA estimate the U.S. solar market’s total value surpassed $8.4bn in 2011.
The growth was spurred in part by declining installed solar PV system prices, which fell 20% last year on the back of lower component costs, improved installation efficiency, expanded financing options, and a shift toward larger systems nationwide. In addition, the anticipated expiration of the U.S. government’s 1603 Treasury Program, which ended Dec. 31, 2011, drove developers to commission projects before the end of the year.
According to U.S. Solar Market Insight, 2012 will be another strong year for the PV industry, with installations of more than 2,800 MW forecasted.
The report also provides an update on 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 meaningful construction progress on a number of projects with some capacity expected to come online later in 2012 and a surge in 2013. Today, more than 1,000 MW of CSP are under construction.
As of year-end 2011, cumulative PV capacity in the U.S. reached nearly 4,000 MW and cumulative CSP capacity topped 500 MW, the report said.
“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. “It was the first year with meaningful volumes of large-scale PV installations; there were 28 individual PV projects over 10 MW in 2011, up from only two in 2009. Furthermore, the market continued to diversify nationally; eight states installed more than 50 MW of solar each last year, compared to just five in 2010,” Kann said.