US corporations heat up solar market

US corporations heat up solar market

Solar panels on trackers in the desert

The U.S. solar industry smashed the record for new installations last year, deploying 1,855 megawatts of new solar PV capacity, more than doubling the previous annual record of 887 MW recorded during 2010.

According to the latest U.S. SolarMarket Insight report from the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA) and analyst firm GTM Research, new installations grew 109 per cent in 2011, marking the first time the industry has deployed more than a gigawatt of new capacity in a single year.

The report also revealed that the fourth quarter alone saw 755 MW of new capacity installed, up 115 percent year-on-year, as households and businesses rushed to complete solar projects ahead of the anticipated expiration of the U.S. government's 1603 Treasury grant program.

The market is being driven in large part by businesses and utilities deploying solar technologies as a means of curbing their carbon emissions and diversifying their energy supplies.

Around 800 MW of new capacity was installed by the commercial sector, driven by soaring demand in California and New Jersey, while utility scale projects provided a further 758 MW of new capacity, nearly triple the level added in 2010. In contrast, only 297 MW of new capacity was added by residential installations.

"In 2011, the market demonstrated why the U.S. is becoming a center of attention for global solar," Shayle Kann, managing director of GTM Research's solar practice, said in a statement. "It was the first year with meaningful volumes of large-scale PV installations; there were 28 individual PV projects over 10MW in 2011, up from only two in 2009. Furthermore, the market continued to diversify nationally; eight states installed more than 50MW of solar each last year, compared to just five in 2010. These are all indicators of a vibrant market."

The report also predicted that the trend is likely to continue, forecasting that falling solar technology prices mean that more than 2,800 MW of new capacity will be added this year. Moreover, a compound annual growth rate of 30 percent is predicted through to 2016 as growing numbers of businesses and states turn to the technology.

Similar growth predictions were also put forward for the concentrated solar power (CSP) sector, with the report noting that while new large scale solar thermal power plants were built in 2011, more than 1 GW of concentrated solar power projects are now under construction with a flurry of new projects expected to come online in 2013.

In total, the report calculated that the U.S. now boasts 4 GW of solar PV capacity and 500 MW of CSP capacity, for a solar market that was worth more than $8.4 billion last year.

"The solar industry is the fastest-growing industry in America for the second year in a row," said Rhone Resch, president and chief executive of SEIA. "What we are seeing in the U.S. is that policies are working to open new markets and remove barriers for solar. The industry is now poised for years of multigigawatt growth and the creation of tens of thousands of new jobs."

However, he added that the sector continued to face a number of challenges, most notably in the form of continuing uncertainty over the long-term policy environments and fears over a potential trade row with China over low-cost imports of solar panels.

This article originally appeared on BusinessGreen. Photo courtesy of Pedro Salaverría  via Shutterstock.