US Solar Project Pipeline Jumps As Module Prices Fall

The US development pipeline for non-residential photovoltaic (PV) solar projects has increased from 17 gigawatts (GW) to 24 GW in just two months. 

Solarbuzz says large cuts in factory gate module prices over the summer are responsible for the jump in development activity.

The September 2011 edition of the US Deal Tracker database released by Solarbuzz identifies 1,865 non-residential projects totaling 25.9 GW either installed, being installed or in their development phase since January 1, 2010. Development phase projects include pre-RFP, going through the RFP process, or planned without RFP.

California currently accounts for 61% of the total US project pipeline, stimulated by the state’s aggressive 33% Renewable Portfolio Standard target, and benefiting from the recent trend of solar projects reallocated from concentrating solar to solar PV.

The top six state pipelines in megawatt terms are California, Arizona, Nevada, Texas, New Jersey, and New Mexico; in total, 44 states now contribute to the pipeline.

Utility-driven project activity is now evident across 35 states. Other kinids of non-residential projects under 1 MW are also an important market segment, with 771 projects being monitored.

The fast-developing non-residential segment has created an important and growing opportunity for project developers,  and engineering, procurement and construction companies. The top 12 project developers account for 51% of the pipeline.

The collapse in US factory-gate module prices over the past four months are starting to impact prices for utility projects, which are coming down more than projects under 1 MW. 20% of prices for installed systems over 1 MW are now $3.75 per watt or below.

"Utility expectations for improved installed pricing measured either in per watt peak or kilowatt hour have vastly increased over the past quarter," says Craig Stevens, President, Solarbuzz. "The result is more RFPs and an acceleration of PV orders."

For those projects in the pipeline that have selected module suppliers, the top three suppliers in MW terms are US companies First Solar and SunPower, and China’s Suntech Power.

First Solar leads the world in thin-film solar, which is widely used in large installations, while SunPower is known for more expensive, high end solar PV. Suntech’s modules are widely used in situations where the low-cost option is warranted.

China’s Yingli Green, Japan’s Sharp and Germany’s SolarWorld are increasing their presence in non-residential projects.

The leading inverter suppliers to the pipeline remain US-based Advanced Energy and SatCon Technology.

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