Although the solar industry faces significant headwinds next year, solar installations are booming in the US in this last quarter of 2011.
In North America, the solar PV market is expected to grow 33% over the third quarter and 101% from Q4 2010, forecasts Solarbuzz in its North America PV Markets Quarterly report.
That translates into more than 0.8 gigawatt (GW) installed in Q4 and a total of 2.2 GW in 2011.
The US is expected to double to 1.9 GW this year, the second consecutive year it's done so.
84% of Q4 installations are in the US, and the remaining 16% are mostly in Ontario, Canada, which hosts 99% of Canadian installations.
California is still the single largest market with a 21% share, followed by Ontario with 16% and New Jersey (11%).
The primary driver in Ontario is its feed-in tariff (FIT), which is under review, and could be lowered. Recently, the US federal government has played a critical role in pushing solar installations through investment tax credits (ITC), cash grants, depreciation bonuses and loan guarantees.
By the end of Q3 2011, the federal government cumulatively awarded over $1.4 billion in cash grants for solar systems, which is equivalent to 800 MW of installed capacity. The California Solar Initiative, the largest state-level incentive program in the US, has supported over 650 MW since its inception in 2007.
"PV is now positioned to take significant market share from other energy sources as it approaches grid parity in some regions. Downstream companies are facing enormous challenges to adapt to rapidly changing channel structure and business models in order to successfully participate in that opportunity," says Craig Stevens, President of NPD Solarbuzz.
In Q4, 38% of systems will be ground-mount and 37% will be on non-residential buildings, reflecting the large scale systems being installed to meet state Renewable Energy Portfolios and to get in on the federal cash grant before it expires at the end of December.
The general consensus is that the solar industry faces a tough 2012 as solar incentives decline, manufacturers face continued module over-supply and very low prices, and significant policy uncertainty.
Still the North American market is expected to triple by 2015, with ground-mount installations accounting for 42% of the market.