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US solar PV soared 109% in 2011

The US installed 1855 MW of solar photovoltaic (PV) capacity in 2011, up 109% on 2010, according to the latest US Solar Market Insight report from GTM Research and the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA).

By Kari Williamson

SEIA says 2011 is the first year the US solar market has topped 1 GW of solar PV installations in a single year – and the US solar market is valued at over US$8.4 billion.

The cumulative solar PV capacity in the US reached almost 4 GW by the end of the year.

The growth was spurred in part by declining installed solar PV system prices, which fell 20% 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 US Government's 1603 Treasury Program, which ended on 31 December, 2011, drove developers to commission solar PV projects before the end of the year.

No CSP, but CPV

While no new concentrating solar electric power (CSP) was brought online in 2011, a total of 10 concentrating solar PV (CPV) projects came online.

However, more than 1 GW of CSP is currently under construction, and cumulative CSP capacity has now topped 500 MW.

Larger installations

"In 2011, the market demonstrated why the US is becoming a centre of attention for global solar," says Shayle Kann, Managing Director of GTM Research's solar practice.

"It was the first year with meaningful volumes of large-scale PV installations; there were 28 individual PV projects over 10 MW in 2011, up from only two in 2009. Furthermore, the market continued to diversify nationally; 8 states installed more than 50 MW of solar each last year, compared to just five in 2010. These are all indicators of a vibrant market."

The report finds that 800 MW were installed in the commercial sector in 2011, led by the California and New Jersey markets, compared to 758 MW of utility solar PV and 297 MW of residential solar installations.

Utility-scale project installations, primarily across states in the Southwest, nearly tripled 2010 totals.

In the residential sector, California installed 114 MW of solar, with New Jersey, Arizona, Hawaii, Pennsylvania and Colorado each contributing meaningfully to the residential total.

More records in 2012

According to the US Solar Market Insight, 2012 will be another strong year for the solar PV industry, with installations of more than 2.8 GW forecasted. Beyond 2012, the report forecasts installations to continue their ascendancy at a compound annual growth rate of 30% through 2016.

"The solar industry is the fastest growing industry in America for the second year in a row. What we are seeing in the US is that policies are working to open new markets and remove barriers for solar," says Rhone Resch, President and CEO of SEIA.

"The industry is now poised for years of multi-gigawatt growth and the creation of tens of thousands of new jobs. But we face a number of challenges that have the potential to slow this growth. That is why SEIA now coordinating the industry's federal and state policy initiatives to present a unified, cohesive voice for the solar industry."

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Photovoltaics (PV)  •  Policy, investment and markets  •  Solar electricity