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Solar in the US: Policy & Promise (+ 9 More Solar Charts & Images)

I was on a conference call yesterday with Tom Kimbis, Vice President of the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA), and Shayle Kann, Vice President of Research at GTM Research. The conference call was for the announcement of the latest US Solar Market Insight report (for Q1 2012), which Josh had a great summary of earlier this morning (link above). Luckily, I got to ask the last several questions in the Q&A period at the end (you can listen to the whole conference call here). Adding on to Josh’s summary, I just thought I’d add on some things I learned from those extra questions, as well as a few more key facts and graphs.

First, here are some more key stats and graphs, not included in Josh’s piece, that I think are worth a share:

  • We now have enough solar power capacity in the US to power 775,000 households!
  • The 2012 solar PV installation capacity projections (which Josh noted are 75% above last year’s total) are now actually 15% higher than previous annual forecasts for 2012 — in other words, while many viewed previous SEIA projections as ambitious, those early projections were actually lower than the latest, most informed projections!
  • “The increase in forecasted installations for 2012 is due to accelerated timelines for large-scale utility projects, greater-than-expected first quarter growth in the New Jersey commercial market, the number of safe-harbored projects that will still qualify for the U.S. government’s expired 1603 Treasury Program, and overall positive outlooks for the California, Massachusetts, and Hawaii markets.”
  • While solar installations were way up in Q1 2012 compared to Q2 2011, US solar panel production was way down. “While the demand for solar energy in the U.S. grows, and the cost of solar falls, U.S. solar panel manufacturers continue to face increased global competition and uncertainty surrounding global trade disputes. In Q1 2012, U.S. solar panel production amounted to just 160 MW compared to 335 megawatts in Q1 2011.”
  • “Installed prices fell in every market segment year-over-year compared to Q1 2011…. Residential installed prices fell 7.3 percent, commercial installed prices fell 11.5 percent, and utility prices fell 24.7 percent over Q1 2011…. The overall blended average installed price fell 17.2 percent year-over-year.”

Illustrating some of those points above, below are nine nice charts and images.

Current Solar Installation Project for 2012:

Preliminary Solar Installation Projections to 2016:

Installed Solar Price Drops (by Segment & as a Whole):

Solar Component Price Drops:

Quarter-by-Quarter Solar Installations by Market Segment:

Top Solar Installation States (with Segmentation):

US Solar Jobs & Value of Solar Installations:

Where US Solar Jobs Are (i.e. Almost Everywhere):


US Solar Policy:

Now, let’s get to the topics I asked about in the Q&A section. I asked about 3 things: PACE financing, solar leasing, and reliance on federal solar policies based on the tax equity market. Here’s what I learned:

PACE Financing

SEIA isn’t very involved, currently, in getting PACE financing going on local levels (e.g. cities and states). It seems to be working a bit with important federal agencies that were largely responsible for stalling/stopping PACE financing across the nation. However, the answer didn’t give me much hope that we’re going to see a PACE renaissance any time soon.

Solar Leasing & PPAs

Shayle reiterated and emphasized my initial point that the biggest trend in the residential solar market in the past couple years has been 3rd-party financing and 3rd-party ownership of solar projects through solar leases and PPAs. He then went on to note that the model has been growing “extremely rapidly” and has grown from just a few companies to at least 16, with the initial few companies greatly expanding their range as well. Basically, anywhere it’s introduced, it is doing very well. He expects to see fast growth through solar leasing and PPAs as such options become available in more and more places (they’re currently only available in a handful of states).

Federal Solar Policies Not Relying on the Tax Equity Market

John Farrell’s recent post highlighting the massive imbalance in supply and demand for tax equity financing for solar projects (what current federal policy is based on) was in my head at the end of the conference call, since the point is that there’s a lot more solar financing demand than supply in the tax equity market. So, I asked about the possibility of moving to federal policies that didn’t rely so much on the tax equity market.

Tom noted that there’s a new assistant secretary of energy in the federal government, Dr. David Danielson, who is “very focused on alternative financing mechanisms for renewable energy” and that he “understands very well what’s going on in the tax and equity markets, and where there could be potential shortages currently and going forward.” Basically, it sounds like he is looking into developing ways the federal government can provide the support for important alternative financing mechanisms. Sounds good.


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Zach is tryin' to help society help itself one word at a time. He spends most of his time here on CleanTechnica as its director, chief editor, and CEO. Zach is recognized globally as an electric vehicle, solar energy, and energy storage expert. He has presented about cleantech at conferences in India, the UAE, Ukraine, Poland, Germany, the Netherlands, the USA, Canada, and Curaçao. Zach has long-term investments in Tesla [TSLA], NIO [NIO], Xpeng [XPEV], Ford [F], ChargePoint [CHPT], Amazon [AMZN], Piedmont Lithium [PLL], Lithium Americas [LAC], Albemarle Corporation [ALB], Nouveau Monde Graphite [NMGRF], Talon Metals [TLOFF], Arclight Clean Transition Corp [ACTC], and Starbucks [SBUX]. But he does not offer (explicitly or implicitly) investment advice of any sort.


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