The U.S. solar energy industry continues to be one of the fastest growth sectors in the economy.
In the first quarter of 2011, 252 megawatts (MW) of grid-connected solar photovoltaics (PV) were installed in the US, 66% year-over-year growth over Q1 2010 installations, according to a report released by the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA).
348 MW of PV modules were manufactured in the US during the first quarter, a 31% increase over Q1 2010.
Two major factors are driving growth: rapidly declining solar equipment costs and a rush to take advantage of Federal incentives (Section 1603 Treasury program) that expire at the end of 2011 (and may not be renewed given partisan politics).
Prices are also much lower for homeowners and businesses to buy solar systems: as technology costs fall and the industry matures, it's able to capitalize on greater economies of scale and streamline project development and installation.
All three PV market sectors (residential, commercial and utility) continue to grow, with commercial installations showing the strongest gains.
"On the whole, the U.S. is currently the PV industry's most attractive and stable growth market," says Shayle Kann, Managing Director of Solar at GTM Research, which collaborated on the report. "This is reflected in our report's quarterly market data and in the comments from global suppliers, distributors, and developers, all of whom see the U.S. positioned to nearly double its global market share in 2011 and support a greater diversity of installation types than has been previously seen in any leading demand center."
Geographically, the market is concentrated in just a few key states, however. In Q1 2010, the top seven states hosted 82% of installations, but in Q1 2011, 88% of installations were in those states.
The pace of installations grew more than 50% in 11 of the 21 states analyzed in the report.
"With analysts predicting the U.S. to become the world's largest solar market within the next few years, manufacturers are increasingly looking to the U.S. to site their facilities," says Tom Kimbis, SEIA Vice-President of Strategy and External Affairs. "They are finding significant value in manufacturing close to their expected source of demand. This strong demand continues to make solar one of the fastest growing industries in the United States and a source of thousands of solar jobs from manufacturing and installation to engineering and sales."
On the concentrating solar side, 1.1 GW of CSP and concentrating photovoltaic (CPV) projects are under construction thanks to Dept of Energy loan guarantees.
Cumulative grid-connected solar installations have reached over 2.85 gigawatts (GW) in the US, enough to power nearly 600,000 homes.