By Kari Williamson
The analyst says North America is at a crossroads being caught between strong utility-scale project demand, declining solar incentives in distributed generation applications, module over-supply, and significant policy uncertainty.
“PV is now positioned to take significant market share from other energy sources as it approaches grid parity in some regions. Downstream companies are facing enormous challenges to adapt to rapidly changing channel structure and business models in order to successfully participate in that opportunity,” says Craig Stevens, President of NPD Solarbuzz.
In Q4’11, the North America photovoltaic market is forecast to grow 33% quarter-on-quarter and 101% year-on-year.
Q4'11 installations of more than 0.8 GW of solar PV capacity are expected, resulting in a total demand of over 2.2 GW in 2011, NPD Solarbuzz predicts.
The United States will account for 84% of North American solar PV demand in Q4’11; Canada, dominated by Ontario, has the remaining 16%.
When viewed at a state or provincial level, California remains the largest single market in Q4’11, with 21% of market share. Ontario is forecast to become the second-largest region (16%), followed by New Jersey (11%). In Canada, Ontario is 99% of the national solar PV market, which creates significant policy risk.
The primary driver in Ontario has been the feed-in tariff (FIT), while American states have been driven by a combination of policies and regulations at both state and Federal levels.
By the end of Q3’11, the US Federal Government cumulatively awarded over US$1.4 billion in cash grants for solar systems, which is equivalent to 800 MW of installed capacity. The California Solar Initiative, the largest state-level incentive programme in the US, has supported over 650 MW since its inception in 2007.
Ground-mounted solar PV
In Q4’11, ground-mount solar PV installations are forecast to have 38% of the market, followed by building-mount, non-residential systems (>100 kW), which will have 37% of the market. The ground-mount segment benefited from demand from Ontario and from large-scale installations in California and Arizona geared toward meeting the state RPS requirements, NPD Solarbuzz says.
In Q3’11, the US PV market grew by 32% from Q2’11 and could reach 1.9 GW for the year, which would mean that the market has doubled in size for the second consecutive year. For large-scale non-residential and utility-scale projects in Q3’11 and Q4’11, the scheduled expiration of the US Federal cash grant has encouraged progress to meet qualifying requirements; ongoing installation will continue throughout 2012, stimulated by the progress requirements for these cash grants.
The next four quarters carry significantly more downstream uncertainty than normal. The SolarWorld Chinese anti-dumping petition has split the US PV industry, with clear evidence that some Chinese manufacturers and project developers have already started to delay shipments and installations. Taken together with the expiration of the US Federal cash grant, deferral of module supplies awaiting a price bottom will slow 2012 growth.
The North American solar PV market, however, is still forecast to triple in size by 2015, with the ground-mount installations securing the largest market share of 42%.
The Canadian solar PV market is continuing its growth in Q4’11, and is projected to increase 35% quarter-on-quarter and 33% year-on-year as utility-scale projects continue development, most under Ontario’s previous incentive scheme.
The province’s current incentive programme, a feed-in tariff, stimulated approximately 16 MW of residential installations during Q4’11 and will continue to be Canada’s primary driver of solar PV uptake.
In terms of policy developments, most attention is now focused on the feed-in tariff programme’s review, which is being conducted by the Ontario Power Authority. Expectations are that solar PV feed-in tariff rates will decline, but other aspects of the policy, such as local content requirements, will remain largely unchanged.