Clean Power

Published on July 9th, 2013 | by Silvio Marcacci


US Passes 10 GW Installed Solar PV Capacity Milestone

July 9th, 2013 by  

America’s solar market has broken through the clouds to shine as only the fourth nation to pass the 10 gigawatts (GW) installed solar capacity milestone.

US solar PV market segmentation

Fast-growing solar photovoltaic (PV) deployment levels since 2010 pushed the US into the ultra-exclusive 10 GW club, reports NPD Solarbuzz in the latest North America PV Market Quarterly report.

“The US has now joined an elite group of maturing solar PV markets,” said Christopher Sunsong of NPD Solarbuzz. “Only Germany, Italy, and China have more installed PV capacity than the US.”

Solar Growing Fast With No Slowdown In Sight

Solar PV has become one of America’s fastest-growing energy sources in recent years. NPD reports the solar PV market has expanded at a compound annual growth rate of 50% since 2007, and 83% of the 10 GW capacity was installed within the past 14 quarters. During the first half of 2013, more than 1.8 GW of new solar PV capacity was installed in the US.

But instead of peaking, NPD predicts installations will accelerate over the next 18 months. Cumulative solar PV installations are forecast to grow an additional 80% by the end of 2014, putting the US on track to pass 17 GW installed solar PV capacity.

This dramatic growth is attributed to the drastic decline of solar system prices that began in 2011. The average cost of an installed system has fallen from $6 per watt in 2011 to $4.25 per watt residential and $3 per watt utility-scale solar PV projects today.

Utility-Scale Projects, State Incentives Driving The Market

In fact, the low cost of utility-scale installations have dominated the market, with these projects representing at least 45% of US installations. NPD’s analysis finds almost 1,400 solar PV installations of 500 kilowatts (kW) or larger in 39 different states provide 5.4 GW of capacity – with 40% in California alone.

While falling costs have spurred the market boom, state-level incentive programs have largely dictated where growth has occurred on a regional basis and hold promise for an even brighter solar future.

“While the Far West and Mid-Atlantic states dominate the 10 GW installed, the Southwest and Southeast regions have recently made strong contributions,” continued Sunsong. “Other regions, such as the Great Plains and Great Lakes, remain largely undeveloped, creating future market upside.”

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About the Author

Silvio is Principal at Marcacci Communications, a full-service clean energy and climate policy public relations company based in Oakland, CA.

  • TimC

    But in 2012, US solar energy consumption was only 4.4 terawatt-hours. This was less than 7% of installed solar capacity. As solar capacity has skyrocketed, consumption has not, so most of those shiny new PV installations are just ornamental. Solar energy makes no sense – financially or environmentally – if you just manufacture and install the panels, but don’t actually use the power they generate. When will the US start to consume all the solar capacity that we are paying to install?

    • Bob_Wallace

      Where did you get the 4.4 terawatt hour number, Tim?

      I suspect it doesn’t include the electricity that was consumed in the host building but only what was supplied to utilities.

      US installed solar now includes (most) end-user capacity. That makes the calculation a bit tricky and is probably where you were mislead into thinking that many panels were only “ornamental”.

      • TimC

        Bob – The BP Statistical Review of World Energy 2013 lists U.S. solar energy consumption for 2012 as 4.38 TW-hr, and installed PV capacity as 7,312 MW. As a footnote, the Review says the consumption figures are “Based on gross generation and not accounting for cross-border electricity supply.” If there is a better source for solar energy capacity and consumption data, please let me know. Some of the numbers on renewable energy in the BP Review do not make sense. Does the US EIA report solar power consumption data?

        • Bob_Wallace

          I don’t know of a source for the amount of electricity generated by solar in the US per year.

          A few years back the EIA numbers for installed solar did not include end-user/rooftop installations. It reported only those panels owned by utility companies.

          I understand that the EIA now estimates the amount of end-user solar by using reports of ‘avoided demand’ by grid operators. (I think ‘avoided’ is the term.)

          I’ve seen nothing to suggest that they include/measure the amount of electricity generated and consumed by end users.

          I suspect you’re trying to make a statement for which no data exists. Common sense should tell you that if solar had only a 7% capacity it would be so expensive that no one would touch it.

        • Paul

          Your 7% is based on 24/365 hrs of sunshine 4380000/(24*365*7312) = 0.068, hardly a valid analysis, unless you are making the case that the PV panels are “ornamental” at night.

      • TimC

        Okay, the US EIA’s Short-Term Energy Outlook (link below) gives 2012 US solar consumption as 0.235 quadrillion BTU, equivalent to 68.9 TW-hr. But that’s a problem, because it’s about equivalent to 2012 installed capacity. Note that BP’s numbers for installed solar capacity agree with the story above, about the US passing the 10 GW mark in 2013.

        It’s almost as if the EIA is reporting installed capacity as consumption. They wouldn’t do that, would they?

        The EIA’s Short-Term Energy Outlook can be found at

        • Bob_Wallace

          You need to find explanation of what their measurements mean and how they derived their data.

          Solar consumption – is that the total amount of electricity generated by solar panels in the US or only the portion that flowed through the grid?

          If the portion that gets used by the host building isn’t included then the number isn’t useful to build your 7%/ornamental claim.

  • tivu


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