Republicans and other opposing parties—i.e. Big Oil—are intensifying populist rhetoric and efforts to derail the Obama Administration’s legislative and policy initiatives to promote and foster solar, wind, and renewable energy development and market growth in the US. The good news: the US solar energy market continues to expand, creating green jobs as well as clean, reliable, and local power for individuals, communities, commerce, industry, and public services across the country.
US solar energy market growth surged 45% higher quarter-to-quarter in Q2 2012 and 116% year-over-year (YoY), according to the Solar Energy Industry Association and GTM Research’s latest quarterly “U.S. Solar Market Insight” report.
The results mark Q2 2012 as the second-best quarter in the history of US solar energy, with 742 MW of solar power having been installed. It was also the best-ever quarter recorded for utility solar. Utility solar power installations totaled 477 MW in Q2, according to the SEIA–GTM report.
Record 2Q for US Solar Market
Assertions to the contrary notwithstanding, solar and renewable energy are giving a much-needed boost to US job creation and the economy, and federal government support is a critical factor supporting progress. More than 100,000 Americans working for some 5,600 mostly small businesses across all 50 states are now employed in the US solar energy market.
More than eight states installed 10 MW of solar power or more in the second three months of 2012: California, Arizona, Nevada, Texas, Illinois, North Carolina, New Mexico, and New Jersey. There is now more than 5,700 MW of installed solar power capacity in the US, enough to supply more than 940,000 households, according to the report.
Though utilities’ installing of solar power capacity drove 2Q results to their record gains, the US residential solar energy market also contributed a lot, registering its fourth consecutive quarter of growth. Growth in residential solar was incremental, according to the report, with 98.2 MW of new capacity having been installed. California, Arizona, and New Jersey led residential installations nationally. Residential solar installation growth was also strong in Hawaii, Massachusetts, and Maryland.
The latest “US Solar Market Insight” report also shows how rapidly the third-party residential solar ownership model has gained traction across the country. Third-party residential solar installations accounted fro more than 70% of total Q2 installation in major state markets, including California, Arizona, and Colorado.
In California, Q2 marked the first time the cost of a third-party residential solar installation was lower than that of a residential solar PV system purchased outright, according to SEIA and GTM’s research: $5.64 per watt for third-party versus $5.84 per watt for directly-owned solar systems.
In contrast, Q2 solar power installations contracted in the non-residential market segment, which includes commercial, government, and non-profit solar power installations. As a whole, installations fell from 291 MW in Q1 to 196 MW in Q2. Non-residential solar installations contracted sharply in California (down 45%) and New Jersey (down 35%). The decline was broad-based, however.
“Only ten of the 24 states the report tracks individually saw quarterly growth in the non-residential market in Q2 2012,” the report authors elaborate. “This trend was likely due to a combination of factors. In some individual markets such as New Jersey, it was a result of state-market-specific factors such as SREC oversupply. In other states, Q1 2012 had been bolstered by safe-harbored 1603 Treasury Program installations.”
What’s Ahead for US Solar in 2012?
GTM forecasts that the utility photovoltaic (PV) market will continue strong through the remainder of 2012 — their count there are more than 3,400 MW of utility PV projects under construction. The renewable energy news, research, and market data provider anticipates an additional 1.1 gigawatts (GW) of newly installed power capacity to come online before year’s end. In total, the report’s forecast anticipates 3.2 GW of solar PV being installed in the US in 2012. That would be a 71% YoY increase.
SEIA and GTM also anticipate average US system prices will continue to fall. They’ll drop an additional 10% over the remaining course of 2012 as compared to the previous quarter, SEIA and GTM say.
“The U.S. solar industry is rapidly growing and creating jobs across America despite the slow economic recovery,” SEIA president and CEO Rhone Resch stated for the press. “More solar was installed in the U.S. this quarter than in all of 2009, led for the first time by record-setting utility-scale projects.
“With costs continuing to come down, solar is affordable today for more homes, businesses, utilities, and the military. Smart, consistent, long-term policy is driving the innovation and investment that’s making solar a larger share of our overall energy mix.”
Other key findings in SEIA-GTM Research’s Q2 “U.S. Solar Market Insight” report include:
- PV installations totaled 742 megawatts in Q2 2012, up 45 percent over Q1 2012 and 116 percent over Q2 2011
- The residential market remained relatively flat in Q2, while the non-residential market shrank 33 percent on a quarterly basis
- Q2 2012 was the largest quarter ever for utility PV installations, as more than 20 projects were completed, totaling 447 megawatts
- There is now a cumulative 5,161 megawatts of PV capacity spread amongst nearly 248,000 individual systems operating in the U.S. as of the end of Q2
- GTM Research forecasts that 3.2 gigawatts of PV will be installed in the U.S. in 2012, up 71 percent over 2011
Concentrating Solar Power (CSP and CPV):
- Cogentrix’s 30-megawatt-ac CPV Alamosa Solar came on-line
- Construction progressed at the BrightSource Ivanpah Project, with 92 percent of pylon installation complete at Unit 1 at the end of June
- Two CSP projects, the 100-megawatt Quartzsite Project and the 100-megawatt Moapa Solar Energy Center, were expedited under President Obama’s “We Can’t Wait” initiative
- As of the end of Q2 there is a cumulative of 546 megawatts concentrating solar capacity operating in the U.S.
I've been reporting and writing on a wide range of topics at the nexus of economics, technology, ecology/environment and society for some five years now. Whether in Asia-Pacific, Europe, the Americas, Africa or the Middle East, issues related to these broad topical areas pose tremendous opportunities, as well as challenges, and define the quality of our lives, as well as our relationship to the natural environment.