"Without a doubt, 2013 will go down as a record-shattering year for the U.S. solar industry," said Rhone Resch, CEO of the Solar Energy Industries Association, as he announced results for the third quarter (Q3).
With 930 megawatts (MW) added in Q3, solar is the second-largest source of new U.S. electrical capacity, trailing only natural gas.
Thanks to strong growth in residential solar — the biggest gains ever — and with gigantic utility-scale solar plants coming online, solar capacity rose 20 percent in Q3 (from Q2) and 35 percent from Q3 2012. Residential installations increased 43 percent from Q3 2012. While utility solar represented more than half of new PV capacity installed in Q3 2013, the residential market posted the segment's largest quarter with 186 MW installed.
"We've now joined Germany, China and Japan as worldwide leaders" when it comes to the pace of new solar capacity, Resch said. By the end of this year, the U.S. will have installed more solar than Germany.
So far in 2013, corporations such as Wal-Mart, Macy's and Staples have added more than 445 MW of solar on 1,000 buildings in 30 states, 48 percent more than a year ago.
All told, the U.S. will install about 4.3 gigawatts (GW) this year, bringing the cumulative total close to 15 GW, a rise of 27 percent from 2012. California continues to lead the pack, with 455 MW installed in Q3.
By year end, more than 400,000 solar projects will be operating across the country, according to U.S. Solar Market Insight: 3rd Quarter 2013.
Additional key data
Also of note: Blended average PV system prices fell 4.2 percent in Q3 compared to the previous quarter, reaching a new low of $3 per watt.
On the solar jobs front, as of 2012, the U.S. solar industry employed more than 119,000 people, with the majority in California (43,000), Arizona and New Jersey. In Texas, there are now more solar workers than ranchers.
The average pay for solar installation jobs, at about $38,000 a year, beats the national job average, which is $34,750, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
How many solar jobs are in your state? Use this map by the Solar Foundation to find out. It shows your state's rank and quick details on key policies, such as net metering and Renewable Portfolio Standard targets.