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US solar installations grow 140%

The US solar energy industry saw a record 140% growth in installations in the third quarter (Q3) of 2011, compared to Q3 2010, thanks to utility-scale project completions, a strong residential market, effective policies and the plummeting price of solar panels.

By Kari Williamson

The report, U.S. Solar Market Insight: 3rd Quarter 2011 report, from GTM Research and the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA) shows that the US saw the installation of over 1 GW of solar capacity, surpassing the 2010 annual total of 887 MW.

This includes 449 MW installed in the third quarter alone – a record for quarterly installations and more new solar electric capacity than was added in all of 2009.

1603 must be extended

Much of the growth in solar installations is due to the Department of Treasury’s 1603 programme, which is set to expire on 31 December unless Congress extends it. In the absence of an extension of the programme, the report predicts that there will be a tax equity bottleneck for projects in 2012, leading to a possible slowdown in installations in late 2012 and into 2013.

“The US solar industry is on a roll, with unprecedented growth in 2011,” says Rhone Resch, President and CEO of SEIA.

“Solar is now an economic force in dozens of states, creating jobs across America. But our industry needs stable policy on which to make business decisions, and unfortunately an underlying mechanism for financing solar projects is scheduled to expire on December 31. To keep the industry growing and creating jobs in the US we need Congress to extend the 1603 programme.

“The 1603 programme has done more to expand the use of renewable energy than any other policy in US history. Our country is not in a position to have Congress turn their back on American industries, and it is critical that Congress extend the 1603 programme in the few days left before the end of the year.”

Cautious optimism for 2012

“US solar is entering 2012 with a sense of cautious optimism,” says Shayle Kann, Managing Directory of the solar practice at GTM Research.

“There are three questions on the mind of everyone in the market: one, what would be the impact of the 1603 Treasury Program’s expiration; two, can emerging commercial markets like Massachusetts, Colorado, Ohio, Tennessee, and Hawaii ramp up as major markets like California, New Jersey and Pennsylvania trend downward; and finally, how will the trade petition against Chinese solar imports impact market dynamics, both in the immediate term and if duties are ultimately levied?”

Highlights from Q3:

  • Grid-connected solar photovoltaic (PV) installations in Q3 2011 grew 39% over Q2 2011 and 140% over Q3 2010;
  • The utility solar PV market installed over 200 MW in Q3 2011, a greater than 400% increase in installations over Q2 2011;
  • The residential solar PV market grew 21% over Q2 2011 to reach nearly 75 MW; and
  • California regained a substantial share of overall solar PV installation in Q3 2011 with 44%; the next 6 largest state markets combined comprised 45% of quarterly installations.

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Photovoltaics (PV)  •  Policy, investment and markets  •  Solar electricity

 

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