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US Solar Power Booming: 684 MW Of Solar PV Installed In US In 3rd Quarter, 44% More Than Q3 2011

I just gave a presentation today to a class of renewable energy graduate students which mentioned solar PV’s tremendous growth over the past several years and its projected growth in the coming years. As the U.S. Solar Market Insight: Third Quarter 2012 report released today shows, the US Solar industry is indeed still growing at a rapid clip, just as had been projected for the past few years.

As indicated in the title and chart above, 684 MW of solar PV were installed in the US in the 3rd quarter, up 44% from the 3rd quarter of 2011. In fact, 2012 3rd quarter installations were the third best ever, only behind the 2012 2nd quarter and the 2011 4th quarter (note that the 4th quarter tends to be the best quarter each year).

The most recent U.S. Solar Market Insight report, which is a collaborative product of the Solar Energy Industries Association® (SEIA®) and GTM Research, also indicated that cumulative 2012 installations at the end of Q3 hit 1,992 MW, more than 2011’s annual total of 1,885 MW.

For some more statistics fun, here are the 3rd quarter state leaders for new PV installations:

And here are cumulative solar installation leaders:

Here are some more stats from the report, followed by several charts from the Executive Summary:

  • Total US solar PV power capacity is now over 5,900 MW
  • Concentrating solar power (CSP) adds another 500 MW
  • In total, the power capacity of solar is now enough to power over 1 million average US homes.
  • The residential PV market added 118 MW in Q3, enough to power about 113,000 average American homes. The 118 MW total is 12% more than in Q3 2011.
  • The commercial market (which includes governmental and institutional facilities) added 257 MW in Q3, 24% more than in Q3 2011.
  • “Average residential system prices dropped quarter-over-quarter from $5.45 per watt to $5.21 per watt nationally while average non-residential prices declined 15 cents per watt, falling to $4.18.”
  • “Average utility system prices, which are currently at $2.40 per watt, continue to see the greatest reduction in prices of the three market segments covered, falling by 30 percent since third quarter last year.”
  • 119,000 Americans are now employed at about 5,600 solar companies, most of which are small businesses. Of course, there are now solar companies in all US states.
  • “Colorado, Florida, Maryland, Massachusetts, and Pennsylvania saw growth of 5 MW or greater compared to the previous quarter.” 
  • “Behind Maryland, Massachusetts saw the greatest quarter-over-quarter increase, up from 25 MW in Q2 2012 to 40 MW this quarter.” 
  • “All Massachusetts installations in Q3 2012 came from the commercial and residential sectors, boosted by the expansion of net metering allowances and an influx of national retailers that offer leasing and other innovative “third-party” ownership models.”
  • “During this quarter, residential PV markets in Arizona, Colorado, California, and Massachusetts saw third-party systems range from 57 to 91 percent of total residential system installations.”

Solar Leasing vs Solar Ownership

While there solar ownership often outperforms solar leasing in the long run for those who can put money down for a few decades of electricity from clean energy, the appeal of $0 (or at least not much money down) is very appealing and solar leasing seems to dominate every market it enters. As noted in March, around 73% of California solar installations were through a solar leasing system as of february 2012, similar to the 57–91% noted above by SEIA and GTM Research.

As NREL noted just a couple weeks ago, however, new loan programs are making it possible for more people to gain the benefits of solar leasing programs while actually owning their own solar PV systems. We’ll see if those catch on or third-party systems continue to dominate. My guess is that solar leasing’s head-start and savvy marketing from the companies offering it will mean that solar leasing remains top dog for awhile.

Expect a Big Boom in Quarter 4

As noted above, quarter 4 tends to be the biggest quarter of the year. It’s projected that 2012 won’t be any different.

“While Q3 2012 was remarkable for the U.S. PV market, it is just the opening act for what we expect to see in Q4,” said Shayle Kann, vice president of research at GTM. “We forecast more than 1.2 GW of PV to be installed next quarter on the back of developers who are pushing to meet year-end deadlines in both the utility and commercial segments. We also expect to see the residential PV market post another record number in Q4, as third-party residential installers gain more traction in mature, cost-effective markets.”

Some pretty remarkable stats: In 2011 and 2012, 4th quarter solar PV installations represented 41% and 42% of annual installations, respectively. I can’t wait to see the cumulative solar power installation number at the end of 2012. If GTM and SEIA’s quarter 4 projections are correct, that would be 7,100 MW of solar PV power. Total 2012 installations would total 3,200 MW, or enough to power half a million average American homes.


To you CSP and CPV fans: thanks for being patient, here’s the SEIA/GTM summary update on CSP and CPV:

  • The BrightSource Energy Ivanpah project in California is progressing on schedule, with the project (392 MW) coming online in stages during 2013.
  • Abengoa’s Solana 280 MW Generating Station in Arizona is over 75 percent complete and expected to be online in summer 2013.
  • SolarReserve continues power purchase agreement (PPA) discussions with Tri-State and Xcel for its 200 MW Saguache project in Colorado.
  • The California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) unanimously approved an amended PPA for BrightSource’s 200 MW Sonoran West Project.

So, good news all around on US solar. Any thoughts? Questions? Concerns? Hopes?

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Written By

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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