Even in the midst of a struggling global and national economy, the solar industry experienced a banner year in 2010, according to a new report issued by the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA) and GTM Research.
By Ann Rascalli
The U.S. Solar Market Insight TM: Year-in-Review Summary says that the industry’s overall value grew 67 percent from $3.6 billion in 2009 to $6.0 billion last year.
Solar was the fastest growing energy sector, contrasting overall with the a GDP growth of less than 3 percent in the United States.
In total, 878 megawatts (MW) of photovoltaic (PV) capacity and 78 MW of concentrating solar power (CSP) were installed in the U.S. in 2010, enough to power roughly 200,000 homes. In addition, more than 65,000 homes and businesses added solar water heating (SWH) or solar pool heating (SPH) systems.
The U.S. PV market made the most significant strides in 2010, more than doubling installation totals from 2009 according to the latest Insight report. This expansion was driven by the Federal section 1603 Treasury program,
completion of significant utility-scale projects, expansion of new state markets and declining technology costs.
The section 1603 Treasury program helped fourth-quarter installations surge to a record 359 MW and was critical in allowing the solar industry to employ more than 93,000 Americans in 2010. Originally set to expire at the end of 2010, the 1603 Treasury program was ultimately extended through 2011.
In addition, market diversification was a distinguishing characteristic of U.S. solar energy development in 2010. Sixteen states each installed more than 10 MW of PV in 2010, up from only four in 2007. The top 10 states for PV installation in 2010 were: California, New Jersey, Nevada, Arizona, Colorado, Pennsylvania, New Mexico, Florida, North Carolina and Texas.
Cost declines were also an important factor in the 2010 solar expansion, as technology costs fell and the industry matured further, capitalizing on greater economies of scale and improved installation practices. In the residential and commercial-property segments, installed annual PV system cost declines of 8 percent and 11 percent respectively spurred record build-out.
“The U.S. PV market saw a breakthrough in 2010 and is emerging as a global demand center for both suppliers and project developers,” said Shayle Kann, Managing Director of Solar at GTM Research. “The U.S. Solar Market InsightTM: Year-in-Review 2010 examines the conditions that led to the past year’s growth and pinpoints future demand, industry trends and market challenges for 2011 and beyond.”
“This report shows that solar energy is now one of the fastest growing industries in the United States, creating new opportunities for both large and small businesses. Every day, Americans across the country are going to work at well-paying, stable jobs at solar companies, from small installers all the way up to Fortune 500 companies,” said Rhone Resch, SEIA president and CEO. “This remarkable growth puts the solar industry’s goal of powering 2 million homes annually by 2015 within reach. Achieving such amazing growth during the economic downturn shows that smart polices combined with American ingenuity adds up to a great return on investment for the public. The bottom line is that the solar energy industry is creating tens of thousands of new American jobs each year.”
Along with analysis of the U.S. PV market, U.S. Solar Market InsightTM: Year-in-Review 2010 provides visibility into the CSP and solar heating and cooling markets. The 75 MW Martin CSP plant installed in Florida is the largest to come online in nearly 20 years and foreshadows a pipeline of more than 9 GW of CSP projects under development. In addition, for the first time in 2010, the federal government approved permits for CSP plants on public land.
Meanwhile, the solar heating and cooling markets grew in 2010. The top five states for solar water heating installations in 2010 were California, Hawaii, Arizona, Florida and Puerto Rico, while the top five for solar pool heating were Florida, California, Arizona, New York, and Illinois. Fluctuating natural gas and heating oil prices will determine the future of these markets.