US Solar Installations Soar 85% in Q1 2012

After Germany set a record for solar in May, producing 10% of the country’s electricity for the month, reports from the US are also impressive for the first quarter (Q1) of 2012.

Doubling a record-breaking first quarter in 2011, solar installations rose 85% in Q1 2012, reaching 506 megawatts (MW), reports the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA).

The industry could reach 3,300 MW this year, which would represent 11% of all solar installed worldwide. That’s a 75% increase from last year and would make the US the fourth largest market for solar after Germany, Italy and China.

The US now has 4427 MW of solar PV and 516 MW of concentrating solar installed, for a total of 4,943 MW, enough to power 775,000 homes.

That’s just scratching the surface. The US may install 10 GW a year by 2015, Rhone Resch, CEO of SEIA, told Bloomberg. .

"The economics have improved dramatically, with companies realizing it’s a good hedge against rising energy prices," says Resch.

The commercial segment (for-profit, government and non-profit) saw the most growth, up 77% from 2011 with 288.8 MW installed.

Although Governor Christie keeps taking money out of the program, New Jersey still leads the US with 34% of all US installations (174 MW), followed by California (148 MW).

SEIA attributes the dramatic rise in 2012 to accelerated timelines for large-scale utility projects, greater-than-expected first quarter growth in the New Jersey commercial market, the number of safe-harbored projects that will still qualify for the U.S. government’s expired 1603 Treasury Program, and overall positive outlooks for the California, Massachusetts, and Hawaii markets.

But next year could be different. "The impacts of an import tariff on solar cells imported from China, as well as the expiration of the 1603 Treasury Program, will be felt most next year. This could coincide with a trough of demand in New Jersey and California’s adjustment period into a post-California Solar Initiative world to create a temporary slowing of growth. However, we expect the U.S. market to regain momentum thereafter and continue along its path to become a global PV market leader by 2015," says Shayle Kann, Vice President at GTM Research, which authored the report for SEIA.

Worldwide, solar panel prices dropped 49% in 2011 because of China’s enormous production levels.

Other Key Findings for PV:

  • Blended module prices for Q1 2012 were down to $0.94 per watt, a staggering 47% lower than Q1 2011 levels of $1.78 per watt.
  • Installed prices fell 17% to $4.44 per watt and fell in every market segment compared to Q1 2011.
  • Residential installed prices fell 7.3%, commercial installed prices fell 11.5%, and utility prices fell 24.7% over Q1 2011.
  • Pricing for polysilicon and PV components continued to exhibit softness due to the persistence of global oversupply


Key Findings for CSP:

  • 1.1 GW are under construction!
  • Abengoa’s Solana Generating Station received a $125 million investment from Capital Riesgo Global, a subsidiary of Banco Santander, for an equity stake in the project.
  • Construction of the power tower at the Crescent Dunes Solar Energy Project was completed in February 2012.
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