Banner Year for US Solar in 2011, Grows 109%

2011 was a banner year for solar installations in the US – the first year over a gigawatt (GW) was added in one year.

A record 1,855 megawatts (MW) of solar PV were added, double the previous record set in 2010, and representing a 109% growth rate.

As of year-end 2011, the US powers almost a million homes with solar, with 4,000 MW of solar PV and 500 MW of concentrating solar. It’s the fourth largest solar market in the world after Germany, Italy, and China.

There are over 100,000 solar jobs across all 50 states in over 5000 companies.

"In 2011, the market demonstrated why the U.S. is becoming a center of attention for global solar," says Shayle Kann, Managing Director of GTM Research’s solar practice. "It was the first year with meaningful volumes of large-scale PV installations; there were 28 individual PV projects over 10 megawatts in 2011, up from only two in 2009. Furthermore, the market continued to diversify nationally; eight states installed more than 50 megawatts of solar each last year, compared to just five in 2010. These are all indicators of a vibrant market."

10 concentrating solar PV projects came online and 1,000 MW are under construction, enough to power 200,000 homes. Some of that comes online this year, but the surge will be in 2013.

A 5 MW concentrating solar PV plant, the largest in the US, came online in New Mexico, the Hatch Solar Energy Center.

They expect another very strong year in 2012, with installations exceeding 2,800 MW, and forecast 30% annual growth through 2016.

"The solar industry is the fastest growing industry in the US for the second year in a row. Policies are opening new markets and removing barriers for solar," says Rhone Resch, president and CEO of SEIA. "The industry is poised for years of multi-gigawatt growth and the creation of tens of thousands of jobs, but a number of challenges could slow this growth. SEIA is coordinating the industry’s federal and state policy initiatives to present a unified, cohesive voice for the solar industry."

GTM Research and the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA), who produced this latest U.S. Solar Market Insight report, estimate the U.S. solar market’s total value surpassed $8.4 billion in 2011.

The commercial sector installed 800 MW, led by California and New Jersey. Utilities installed 758 MW, nearly triple that of 2010, mostly in the Southwest.

Homeowners installed 297 MW, led by California (114 MW), and followed by New Jersey, Arizona, Hawaii, Pennsylvania and Colorado.

College campuses now have 137 MW installed.

Over 61,000 solar PV systems were installed in 2011, bringing the total to about 214,000.

California hit a major milestone of 1 GW of solar PV on rooftops across the state – a threshold reached by just five countries.

What spurred this growth? It costs 20% less for an installed solar system because of lower component costs, greater installation efficiency, expanded financing options, and a shift toward larger systems nationwide.

Developers also rushed to commission projects before the end of the year, when the federal 1603 Treasury Program (cash instead of tax credits) expired. 

Here’s the report:

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