U.S. solar energy installations soared in 2011
The U.S. solar energy industry installed a record 1,855 megawatts (MW) of photovoltaic (PV) capacity in 2011, according to the latest U.S. Solar Market Insight report from the U.S. Department of Energy. The amount represents a 109 percent growth rate over the previous year and is enough to power more than 370,000 homes. The total more than doubled the previous annual record of 887 MW set in 2010. The findings came from GTM Research and the Solar Energy Industries Association, an industry trade group.
This growth was spurred in part by declining installed solar PV system prices, which fell 20 percent last year on the back of lower component costs, improved installation efficiency, expanded financing options, and a shift toward larger systems nationwide. In addition, the anticipated expiration of the U.S. Department of the Treasury's 1603 Program, which ended December 31, 2011, drove developers to commission projects before the end of 2011.
The report also provides an update on the concentrating solar power (CSP) market. While no new concentrating solar thermal electric capacity was brought online in 2011, a total of 10 concentrating PV projects came online. The year also saw meaningful construction progress on a number of projects with some capacity expected to come online later in 2012 and a surge projected in 2013. Today, more than 1,000 MW of CSP — enough to power 200,000 homes — are under construction.
As of year-end 2011, cumulative PV capacity in the U.S. reached nearly 4,000 MW and cumulative CSP capacity topped 500 MW. Together, these represent enough solar capacity to power nearly a million households.
The market demonstrated why the United States is becoming a center of attention for global solar, according to Shayle Kann, managing director of GTM Research's solar practice. Kann noted that 2011 was the first year with meaningful volumes of large-scale PV installations, adding that there were 28 individual PV projects over 10 megawatts in 2011, up from only two in 2009. Kann also said that the market continued to diversify nationally; eight states installed more than 50 megawatts of solar each last year, compared to just five in 2010. The U.S. Solar Market Insight report projected that 2012 will be another strong year for the PV industry, with installations of more than 2,800 MW forecasted.
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