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U.S. Solar Energy Industry Continues Record-Setting Growth in 2011

U.S. solar market continues strong growth in Q1 2011, both in new installed capacity and increases in U.S. solar manufacturing.

WASHINGTON, D.C., and BOSTON, Mass. - The U.S. solar energy industry continued to be one of the fastest growing sectors of the economy in Q1 2011 according to the U.S. Solar Market InsightTM: Q1 2011 released today by the Solar Energy Industries Association® (SEIA®) and GTM Research.

In total, cumulative grid-connected solar electric installations have reached more than 2.85 gigawatts (GW), enough to power nearly 600,000 U.S. homes.

In the first quarter of 2011, the United States installed 252 megawatts (MW) of grid-connected photovoltaics (PV) or 66 percent year-over-year growth over Q1 2010 installations. Two major factors drove this growth: falling solar energy equipment costs and a rush to take advantage of the Section 1603 Treasury program that was expected to expire in 2010 (the program was eventually extended through the end of 2011).

All three PV market sectors (residential, commercial and utility) continued to grow, with commercial installations showing the strongest gains.

"On the whole, the U.S. is currently the PV industry's most attractive and stable growth market," said Shayle Kann, Managing Director of Solar at GTM Research. "This is reflected in our report's quarterly market data and in the comments from global suppliers, distributors, and developers, all of whom see the U.S. positioned to nearly double its global market share in 2011 and support a greater diversity of installation types than has been previously seen in any leading demand center."

Geographically, the market was concentrated in a few key states. In Q1 2010, the top seven states comprised 82 percent of total installations, but that figure grew to 88 percent in Q1 2011, implying that established, leading markets gained an even larger share. The pace of installations grew more than 50 percent in 11 of the 21 states analyzed in the report.

Price declines were also an important factor in the Q1 2011 solar expansion, as technology costs fell and the industry matured further, capitalizing on greater economies of scale and streamlined project development and installation.

Domestic PV module production in Q1 2011 amounted to 348 MW, a 31 percent increase over Q1 2010.

"With analysts predicting the U.S. to become the world's largest solar market within the next few years, manufacturers are increasingly looking to the U.S. to site their facilities," said Tom Kimbis, SEIA Vice-President of Strategy and External Affairs. "They are finding significant value in manufacturing close to their expected source of demand. This strong demand continues to make solar one of the fastest growing industries in the United States and a source of thousands of good jobs from manufacturing and installation to engineering and sales."

Along with analysis of the U.S. PV market, the quarterly U.S. Solar Market InsightTM provides visibility into the concentrating solar power (CSP) market. No CSP projects came online during Q1 2011, but a total of 1.1 GW of CSP and concentrating photovoltaic (CPV) projects are under construction. The concentrating solar industry continued its momentum with several projects receiving government loan guarantees during the quarter.

Highlights from U.S. Solar Market InsightTM: Q1 2011:

Photovoltaics (PV):

  • Grid-connected PV installations in Q1 2011 grew 66% over Q1 2010 to reach 252 MW.
  • Cumulative grid-connected PV in the U.S. has now reached over 2.3 GW.
  • Cumulative grid-connected solar electric (PV and CSP) has now reached 2.85 GW.
  • The top seven states installed 88% of all PV in Q1 2011, up from 82% in 2010.
  • Commercial installations in Q1 2011 more than doubled over Q1 2010 in 10 of the top 21 states.
  • U.S. module production increased by 17% relative to Q4 2010, from 297 MW to 348 MW. While production from export-oriented firms and facilities dipped materially because of soft demand in the key feed-in tariff markets of Germany and Italy, plants that serve the domestic market enjoyed far healthier utilization of manufacturing capacity.
  • After a year of flat-to-increased pricing for some PV components in 2010, annual beginning-of-year feed-in tariff cuts and depressed global demand in Q1 2011 resulted in substantial price declines. Wafer and cell prices dropped by around 15% each, while module prices fell around 7%.

Concentrating Solar Power (CSP):

  • The 500-MW Blythe CSP plant obtained a $2.1 billion DOE loan guarantee.
  • Construction is underway on the-30 MW Alamosa CPV plant, with expected completion in 2011.
  • There is a concentrating solar (combined CSP and CPV) pipeline of over 9 GW in the U.S.; more than 2.4 GW have signed power purchase agreements.
  • In total, 1,100 MW of CSP and CPV are now under construction in the U.S.

All Solar Markets:

  • The total value of U.S. solar market installations grew 67 percent from $3.6 billion in 2009 to $6.0 billion in 2010.
  • Solar electric installations in 2010 totaled 956 megawatts (MW) to reach a cumulative installed capacity of 2.6 gigawatts (GW), enough to power more than half a million households.

About SEIA®:
Established in 1974, the Solar Energy Industries Association® is the national trade association of the U.S. solar energy industry. Through advocacy and education, SEIA is working to build a strong solar industry to power America. As the voice of the industry, SEIA works with its 1,000 member companies to make solar a mainstream and significant energy source by expanding markets, removing market barriers, strengthening the industry and educating the public on the benefits of solar energy.

About GTM Research:
GTM Research, a Greentech Media company, provides critical and timely market analysis in the form of concise and long-form market research reports, monthly newsletters and strategic consulting services. GTM Research analysis also underpins our webinars and live events. Our analyst team combines diverse backgrounds in the energy, environmental, emerging technology, investment banking, information technology and strategic consulting sectors.

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