| March 14
March 14 The U.S. solar industry installed
a record number of panels in 2011, more than double 2010, and is
likely to see strong growth again this year, according to a new
Solar installers built 1,855 megawatts of photovoltaic
projects in 2011 for a total of $8.4 billion, up from 887 MW in
2010, according to a report released by GTM Research and the
Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA).
The growth in U.S. demand comes as the makers of the panels
that turn light into electricity have struggled to earn profits
amid a glut of supplies on the global market that eroded
The WilderHill Clean Energy Index, which includes
shares of industry heavyweights First Solar, Suntech
Power Holdings, Yingli Green Energy and Trina
Solar, tumbled 49 percent in 2011. So far this year it
has rebounded about 12 percent.
A record level of fourth quarter installations totalling 776
MW easily beat the peak of 473 MW recorded in the third quarter
of the year.
"The U.S. was a strong market in 2011 and we expect it to be
strong again in 2012," said GTM Managing Director Shayle Kann.
Many industry analysts had reduced their forecasts last year
to between 1,500 to 1,700 megawatts as incentives waned in the
country's two biggest markets, California and New Jersey.
For 2012, GTM and SEIA said new construction would grow 35
to 50 percent, reaching 2,500 to 2,800 MW, as a backlog of large
projects is completed.
The 2011 figures rank the United States as the fourth
largest solar market in the world behind Germany, Italy and
China, according to Kann.
The U.S. share of the global market was only about 7 percent
last year, he said, but that share should double by 2016 as U.S.
demand continues to grow and European demand starts to decline.
The large, utility-scale projects, which produce power for
the wholesale electricity market, totaled 758 MW of the 2011
total. That is about the size of one natural gas-fired power
Another 3,000 MW of utility-scale plants are currently under
construction in the United States, and 6,000 MW is at an earlier
stage of development, the report said.
Among those projects under construction are two 550-MW
projects being built by First Solar and a 250-MW plant being
built by SunPower Corp, which are among the largest in
Installations on homes rose 11 percent in 2011 to 297 MW,
while panels installed at non-residential sites rose 28 percent
to 800 MW.
Despite declining prices for solar panels in recent years,
the sector still relies on government subsidies to make the
power projects competitive with coal and natural gas.
The average installed cost for solar declined by 20 percent
last year to $4.08 per watt, largely because of reductions in
costs for the largest plants, which saw costs drop to $3.20 per
watt in the fourth quarter.
That overall decline did not fully reflect last year's 50
percent drop in wholesale panel prices, since most of the 2011
project costs were before that steep decline.
The 2011 panel price drop is likely to begin showing up in
projects that will come on line later this year.