US Solar Industry Continues Historic Growth in Q2

The US solar industry continued its rapid growth through the second quarter (Q2) of this year, gaining a greater share of the  global market.  The solar industry is an economic bright spot in an otherwise sour economy.

The US is poised to install 1,750 megawatts of solar PV in 2011, double last year’s total and enough to power 350,000 homes.

The solar industry employs over 100,000 Americans in over 5000 companies, according to The Solar Foundation’s National Solar Jobs Census 2011 report.

100,237 jobs as of August 2011

  • 6.8% growth from August 2010- August 2011
  • 6,735 new solar jobs created from August 2010 – August 2011 in all 50 states
  • The overall economy grew only 0.7% during the period, and fossil fuel electric generation lost 2% of its workforce.

Details on Solar PV and Concentrating

In Solar Photovoltaics (PV), 314 megawatts (MW) was installed in Q2 – 69% more than the same period last year and 17% more than the first quarter of 2011, according to GTM Research and the Solar Energy Industries Association’s (SEIA) latest quarterly U.S. Solar Market Insight report.

"The second quarter data illustrates that the U.S. solar industry continues to be one of the fastest growing in America," says Rhone Resch, SEIA CEO. "More than 100,000 Americans are employed in solar, twice as many as in 2009. They work at more than 5,000 companies – the vast majority being small businesses – across all 50 states."

Utility and commercial market segments grew 37% and 22% respectively in the second quarter.

The residential PV segment, however, stuttered for the second consecutive quarter, installing 60 MW, a 5.7% drop over Q1. 

SEIA’s Market Insight report predicts the residential market will gain more traction in the second half of 2011 and into 2012, as residential solar-leasing business models expand nationwide.

"The dynamic second quarter growth is a result of increased competition in the solar market, competition that drove down the price of solar panels by 30% since the beginning of 2010," adds SEIA’s Resch. "This is good news for residential and business customers as solar becomes more affordable every day."

Over 600 MW are under construction in the Concentrating Solar market, which includes Concentrating Solar Power (CSP) and Concentrating PV (CPV) technologies. And there’s over 7,000 MW in the US pipeline – enough to power 1.4 million homes. Over 4,000 MW of that pipeline have signed power purchase agreements with utilities.

Despite Growth, Challenges Remain

While U.S. solar is on track for a banner year, challenges anticipated in 2012 and beyond could stunt growth.

"The potential expiration of the 1603 Treasury program, along with current malaise in major markets such as New Jersey and Pennsylvania, threatens to slow growth in 2012," says Shayle Kann, Managing Director of Solar at GTM Research. "Still, with increasing market diversity and the continued emergence of the utility-scale solar market, we anticipate that the U.S. market share of global installations will triple over the next four years."

New Jersey’s commercial market exceeded California’s for the first time because its strong Renewable Energy Standard and other incentives. It’s now the largest commercial market in the country, but that’s likely to slow because of new Republican Governor Chris Christie’s policies which favor fossil fuels. He plans to reduce the state’s Renewable Energy Standard.

Other findings from Q2 2011:

  • Six states installed over 10 MW each in Q2 2011 compared to only three states in all of 2007
  • Production of solar modules in the US slowed along with global demand, dropping 11% in Q2 from Q1, to 333 MW.
  • Weaker-than-expected global demand also led to price declines in Q2; wafer and cell prices dropped 25% and module prices fell 12% in Q2.
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