Banner Year Expected for US Solar, Supplies 1 Million Homes

Thanks to continued strong growth in distributed generation,   US solar capacity added in the first nine months of 2012 has already surpassed the entire amount installed last year.

Solar installations grew an impressive 44% in the third quarter and so far this year 1,992 megawatts (MW) have been added, according to the quarterly update by the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA) and GTM Research.

Total capacity installed for all of 2011 was 1,885 MW. 

There are now 5.9 gigawatts (GW) of solar PV generating electricity in the US across more than 271,000 systems, and another 500 MW of concentrating solar. All told, solar is providing energy to 1 million US households.

Residential Solar Hits Quarterly High

Small residential PV installations and on-site commercial systems are responsible for much of this growth – 684 MW in the third quarter.

In fact, residential installations grew 12% to hit an all-time quarterly high of 118 MW, reports SEIA. Commercial projects (including those at government agencies and institutional facilities) rose 24% to 257 MW.

Top ranked states include the usual suspects: California, Arizona, New Jersey, Massachusetts and Nevada.

Colorado, Florida, Maryland, Massachusetts and Pennsylvania all recorded growth of at least 5 MW compared with the second quarter.

The strong third quarter could be a prelude to even stronger growth because the fourth quarter (Q4) is historically the strongest for PV installations.

“While Q3 2012 was remarkable for the US PV market, it is just the opening act for what we expect to see in Q4,” says Shayle Kann, vice president of research at GTM. “We forecast more than 1.2 GW of PV to be installed next quarter on the back of developers who are pushing to meet year-end deadlines in both the utility and commercial segments. We also expect to see the residential PV market post another record number in Q4, as third-party residential installers gain more traction in mature, cost-effective markets.”

Year Isn’t Over Yet!

In 2010 and 2011, Q4 accounted for 41% and 42% of annual installations, respectively. If that trend continues, Q4 2012 would be the best quarter on record for the US solar PV market.

For 2012, SEIA and GTM Research project 70% growth, representing 3.2 GW in new capacity. 

“With costs continuing to come down and new financing options, solar energy is affordable today for more families, businesses, utilities, and the military. Thanks to smart long-term policy, the solar industry is growing to meet the challenge of putting Americans back to work and helping to grow both our nation’s economy and our clean energy portfolio,” says Rhone Resch, president and CEO of SEIA.

Average residential system costs range from $5.45 per watt to $5.21 per watt, continuing their downward trend. Average prices for non-residential systems dropped $0.15 cents per watt to $4.18. The biggest declines are in utility-scale projects: the average price has dropped 30% in the past 12 months and is now about $2.40 per watt.

The US solar industry is adding jobs much faster than the rest of the economy – over the past year, solar jobs grew eight times faster than the overall economy. It employs an estimated 119,000 Americans at 5,600 companies, mostly small businesses.

Here are some other highlights from the report, specific to utility-scale projects:

  • Brightsource is close to completing the 392 MW Ivanpah project in California, which comes online in 2013. The power purchase agreement (PPA) for its 200 MW Sonoran West project has been approved by the California Public Utilities Commission.
  • Abengoa’s Solana 280 MW Generating Station in Arizona is more than 75% finished and should be switched on next summer.
  • SolarReserve is in PPA discussions with Tri-State and Xcel for its 200 MW Saguache project in Colorado.

Read US Solar Market Insight: Third Quarter 2012:

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