LOS ANGELES Installed solar power capacity in the United States rose by 17 percent to 8,775 megawatts in 2008, the strongest growth in a single year, solar advocate Solar Energy Industries Association said in an annual review issued on Friday.
It was the third straight year of record growth for the solar industry. It is widely expected that 2009 will be another record year. There are more than 6 gigawatts of concentrating solar power plants in the development pipeline, SEIA said.
"Despite severe economic pressures in the United States, demand for solar energy grew tremendously in 2008," said Rhone Resch, SEIA president and chief executive
"Increasingly, solar energy has proven to be an economic engine for this country, creating thousands of jobs, unleashing billions in investment dollars and building new factories from New Hampshire to Michigan to Oregon," said Resch.
Solar lags behind wind energy in terms of installed U.S. capacity. Wind energy grew in 2008 by 8,538 MW, more than the total installed solar capacity. The annual survey by the American Wind Energy Association issued in January showed total installed capacity of about 25,170 MW.
The top states in wind power were Texas at 7,116 MW, Iowa at 2,790 MW and California at 2,517 MW.
California has the most installed photovoltaic (PV) panels that are tied to the power grid, and increased its share by 179 MW in 2008.
Overall U.S. grid-connected PV capacity is about 800 MW. The top states for PV panels tied to the grid are California with 530.1 MW, New Jersey with 70.2 MW, Colorado with 35.7 MW and Nevada with 33.2 MW.
A megawatt of power can serve about 800 average U.S. homes, and about 650 average homes in California.
PROMISE OF CONCENTRATING SOLAR
Concentrating solar power plants are seen as a major source for solar power in coming years because they can be built to utility scale and some have the ability to store water heated during the day to offer some nighttime generation. Such plants are planned for the Mojave Desert in California and also in sunny states Arizona and Florida.
Solar power is an intermittent source of power but it also generates most of its power during hot sunny days when air-conditioning demand is highest and regional power grids are most stressed.
On Friday, the U.S. Department of Energy offered its first loan guarantee, worth $535 million -- to PV solar manufacturer Solyndra Inc -- under a long delayed advanced clean energy program created by a 2005 energy law.
Solyndra says the construction of a production plant in Fremont California financed by the loan will create 3,000 construction jobs and more than 1,000 plant positions once production begins. If the loan is finalized, plant construction can begin later this year with production by late 2010 or early 2011, the company said.
The federal government in 2008 extended by eight years the solar tax credit, which the SEIA says has sparked solar power development in the past three years. This tax credit will make it easier for companies to make long-range plans.
The Obama administration has pledged to double renewable energy production in three years and to generate 10 percent of U.S. electricity from renewable sources by 2012.
(Reporting by Bernie Woodall; Editing by Marguerita Choy)