Solar surge continued in first quarter


The solar market in the United States continued at its breakneck pace in the first quarter of 2012, setting a record for any three-month period and putting the country on a path to shatter last year’s growth in the solar photovoltaic (PV) markets.

That’s according to the U.S. Solar Market Insight: Q1 2012, a report to be released this week by GTM Research and the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA). The solar association announced the upcoming report in a June 13 press release.

Led by strong growth in the commercial market segment, the U.S. installed a record of 506 MW over the first three months of this year, more than any other first quarter on record.

Installations from January through March raise the total amount of solar PV to 4,427 MW. In addition, concentrating solar power (CSP) facilities are providing 516 MW of electric power to the U.S. Total solar electric capacity reached 4,943 MW.

By comparison, the previous quarterly record was 780 MW in the fourth quarter of 2011. The first quarter of last year had installations of 273 MW.

“The U.S. solar industry continues to lead the U.S. out of difficult economic times,” said Rhone Resch, president and CEO of SEIA. “Installations have grown by 85% in the last year.  This growth is coming from consumers who are turning to solar to reduce their energy costs.”

Overall, 2012 is shaping up to be another banner year for the U.S. solar market. The report forecasts total 2012 PV installations to top 3,200 MW, 75% greater than last year’s total and 15% above previous annual forecasts for 2012.

The increase in forecasted installations for 2012 is due to accelerated timelines for large-scale utility projects, greater-than-expected first quarter growth in the New Jersey commercial market. Projects that qualified for U.S. Treasury 1603 cash grants in 2011 are also nearing completion.,

“We remain bullish in 2012 on all market segments in the U.S. and most of the 23 states we cover in this report,” said Shayle Kann, Vice President at GTM Research. “However, 2013 is an open question. The impacts of an import tariff on solar cells imported from China, as well as the expiration of the 1603 Treasury Program, will be felt most next year.”

While the demand for solar energy in the U.S. grows, and the cost of solar falls, U.S. solar panel manufacturers continue to face increased global competition and uncertainty surrounding trade disputes. In Q1 2012, U.S. solar panel production amounted to just 160 MW compared to 335 megawatts in Q1 2011.

Other key findings include:

  • New Jersey was the largest state market, with 174 megawatts of installations in Q1 2012.
  • Pricing for polysilicon and PV components continued to exhibit softness in Q1 2012 due to the persistence of the global oversupply environment that the industry has faced since early 2011.
  • Blended module prices for Q1 2012 were down to $0.94 per watt, a staggering 47% lower than Q1 2011 levels of $1.78 per watt.
  • Installed prices fell in every market segment year-over-year compared to Q1 2011.

Some states saw their rankings improve significantly this quarter compared to where they stood in 2011: Hawaii, Massachusetts, North Carolina, New Jersey, Florida, and Tennessee all moved up in the rankings. Others states that lost ground in comparison were California, Colorado, New York, and Pennsylvania.