Solar Installations Shone Bright in 2011

Aug 14, 2012

The national trade association for the U.S. solar energy industry, Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA), released a report on March 14, 2012 that showed a record 1,855 megawatts (MW) of photovoltaic (PV) capacity were added in 2011. The 2011 PV capacity more than doubled the previous record set in 2010 and is enough to power more than 370,000 homes.

Cumulative PV capacity operating in the U.S. now stands at 3,954 MW.

The report credited the 2011 growth to multiple factors, including falling PV equipment prices, improved installation efficiency and expanded financing. The U.S. government’s 1603 Treasury Program also ended on Dec. 31, 2011 – which motivated developers to commission projects in the 4th Quarter.

Weighted average PV system prices fell 20 percent in 2011 as a combined result of lower component prices, improved installation efficiency, and a shift toward larger systems.

According to the report, for the last several years the U.S. market has been driven primarily by the non-residential sector.  This sector of the market generated more than 50 percent of installations through 2008. The market dynamics have, however, changed in recent years.  The utility sector has expanded, while residential relatively flat. This trend continued in 2011. The largest of the three, the non-residential market or commercial installations were dominated by growth in California and New Jersey.

  • Residential installations grew 11 percent in 2011 over 2010 to reach 297 MW.
  • Non-residential installations grew 127 percent in 2011 to reach 800 MW.
  • Utility installations grew 185 percent in 2011 to reach 758 MW, by far the largest growth of any segment. Growth prospects for the utility market remain strong. There are over 9 GW of projects with signed utility power purchase agreements (PPAs) awaiting completion over the next five years. Over 3 GW of these projects have already been financed and are in construction. Beyond this, there are at least 30 GW of earlier-stage projects actively seeking permits, interconnection agreements, PPAs, and financing.

Despite the end of the 1603 program, which allowed renewable energy developers to receive a grant for up to 30 percent of the cost of a project in lieu of claiming an energy tax credit, the industry seems primed for growth. According to U.S. Solar Market Insight, 2012 will be another strong year for the PV industry, with installations of more than 2,800 megawatts forecasted. Beyond 2012, the report forecasts installations to continue their ascendancy at a compound annual growth rate of 30 percent through 2016.

What are you seeing in your business? Are solar projects becoming more common? What is needed for sustained growth?

- Ron Burchfield