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Solar Market Insight Report 2012 Q2

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U.S. Solar Market InsightTM is a quarterly publication of the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA)® and GTM Research. Each quarter, we survey nearly 200 installers, manufacturers, utilities, and state agencies to collect granular data on photovoltaic (PV) and concentrating solar. These data provide the backbone of this Solar Market InsightTM report, in which we identify and analyze trends in U.S. solar demand, manufacturing, and pricing by state and market segment. We also use this analysis to look forward and forecast demand over the next five years. As the U.S. solar market expands, we hope that Solar Market InsightTM will provide an invaluable decision making tool for installers, suppliers, investors, policymakers and advocates alike. 

Figure 1-1: U.S. PV Installations, 2010-Q2 2012

The U.S. market remains a rare bright spot in a difficult global solar environment this year. Although global installations should grow overall (GTM Research forecasts 18% global growth in 2012), manufacturer margins remain severely compressed as a result of persistent overcapacity. Major markets such as Germany and Italy show few signs of recovery, leading suppliers to turn with increasing fervency to growth markets – primarily China and the U.S. Fortunately, both of these markets have borne fruit in 2012. China has been a particularly dramatic growth story, with installations expected to more than double in 2012 and exceed 5 gigawatts (GW) by year’s end. Meanwhile, the U.S. continues its recent trend of posting strong, albeit more moderate and consistent, growth figures each quarter – with the exception of individual quarterly booms driven by utility installations.

As usual, the second quarter was a tale of many markets for solar in the U.S. Growth rates varied greatly across states and across market segments. New Jersey began to experience a long-expected correction, while Massachusetts boomed. Overall commercial installations fell nationally, but utility installations more than doubled on a quarterly basis.

This report series tracks 24 states individually, as well as Washington, D.C., and while most market dynamics remain state-specific, a few trends were consistent throughout the country:

1.     System prices continue to fall, bringing the market ever closer to the point where residential and non-residential demand is driven more by solar radiation and retail electricity prices than state-level incentives

2.     The residential third-party financing model continues to gain steam in every market where it has been introduced

3.     The non-residential market has struggled where incentive levels or SREC prices decline (particularly in California and New Jersey), implying system costs must fall further before state incentives become unnecessary

4.     The volume of utility installations is booming, but new utility procurement has slowed down, leaving some earlier-stage projects in limbo as developers turn their attention to more promising prospects

GTM Research forecasts that 3.2 GW of PV will be installed in the U.S. this year, representing 71% growth over 2011. Given this forecast, U.S. market share of global installations will rise to over 10% from 7% in 2011 and less than 5% in 2010.


Key Findings

Photovoltaics (PV):

  • PV installations totaled 742 megawatts (MW) in Q2 2012, up 45% over Q1 2012 and 116% over Q2 2011
    • The residential market remained relatively flat in Q2, while the non-residential market shrank 33% on a quarterly basis
    • Q2 2012 was the largest quarter ever for utility PV installations, as more than 20 projects were completed, totaling 447 MW
    • There is now a cumulative 5,161 MW of PV capacity spread amongst nearly 248,000 individual systems operating in the U.S. as of the end of Q2
  • GTM Research forecasts that 3.2 GW of PV will be installed in the U.S. in 2012, up 71% over 2011

Concentrating Solar Power (CSP and CPV):

  • Cogentrix’s 30 MWac CPV Alamosa Solar came on-line Construction progressed at BrightSource’s Ivanpah Project, with 92% of pylon installation complete at Unit 1 at the end of June
  • Two CSP projects, the 100 MW Quartzsite Project and the 100 MW Moapa Solar Energy Center, were expedited under President Obama’s “We Can’t Wait” initiative
  • As of the end of Q2 there is a cumulative of 546 MW of concentrating solar capacity operating in the U.S.


Photovoltaics (PV), which convert sunlight directly to electricity, continue to be the largest component of solar market growth in the U.S.

Figure 1-2: Q2 2012 PV Installations by State


The U.S. installed 742 MW of photovoltaics in the second quarter of 2012. This represents 45% growth over Q1 2012 and 116% growth over Q2 2011. Through the first half of 2012, the U.S. market has already installed 1,254 MW – more than double the amount installed over the same period in 2011. On the surface, this would seem to indicate that the U.S. market is headed for a third consecutive year of triple-digit growth. However, it is likely that annual growth rates in the second half of the year will be significantly lower. GTM Research forecasts that the U.S. market will grow 71% over the course of 2012, ultimately reaching 3.2 GW.

As detailed below, each market segment (residential, non-residential, and utility) experienced a drastically different landscape in Q2 2012. While the residential market grew incrementally, the non-residential market contracted significantly and the utility market boomed.  Increasingly, the U.S. market needs to be considered in light of these differing dynamics, lest a casual observer draw errant conclusions about any given market segment.

Figure 2-1: State-Level Installations

For the fifth consecutive quarter, the U.S. residential PV market grew incrementally. In Q2, the residential market grew by less than one megawatt overall. Thirteen of the 24 states GTM Research tracks individually saw growth in the residential sector in Q2. The two states with the most notable growth were Maryland and Massachusetts. The California market grew 5% over Q1 2012, but both New Jersey and Arizona saw shrinking residential markets in Q2. Third-party ownership of residential systems is still on the rise in states where the option is available. However, to date this model has not expanded the overall market, but rather taken market share from direct ownership.

The non-residential market performed poorly in Q2 2012, declining substantially both quarter-over-quarter and year-over-year. This was not the result of a single state experiencing a downturn. Although California (down 45%) and New Jersey (down 35%) contributed a large part of the decline, these states were not alone. Only ten of the 24 states GTM Research tracks individually saw quarterly growth in the non-residential market in Q2. This trend was likely due to a combination of factors. In some individual markets such as New Jersey, it was a result of state-market-specific factors such as SREC oversupply. In other states, Q1 had been propped up by installations safe-harbored under the 1603 Treasury program.  Despite the lower second quarter, growth is still expected for the year overall.

Notable growth states for non-residential installations included Massachusetts and Tennessee.

The utility market more than made up for quarterly decline in the non-residential segment and grew overall in Q2 2012. Had the utility market remained flat quarter-over-quarter, total installations would have declined 18% instead of growing 45%. Q2 2012 was the largest quarter in the history of the U.S. market for utility installations. This included a mixture of larger, multi-phase projects (Agua Caliente, Mesquite Solar) and smaller standalone utility-side installations (Silver State North, McHenry Solar Farm).

Figure 2-2: U.S. PV Installations by Market Segment and Quarter, 2011-Q2 2012


Third-party ownership has taken the residential solar space by storm, particularly in the last year and a half. The promise of lower energy bills with little to no upfront payment has spurred tens of thousands of homeowners to install solar systems through a PPA or lease agreement. In Q2 2012, the average price of a residential system was $32,453, down from $37,144 a year ago, despite a slight uptick in average system size from 5.8 k W to 5.9 kW. Even with costs coming down, purchasing a system outright is not a financially viable or appealing option for many homeowners. For homeowners looking to lower their energy costs or reduce their environmental footprint, the option to avoid upfront payment and have a contract with a company to monitor and repair the array is appealing.

As seen in Figure 2-3, the relative market share of third-party-owned residential systems has grown immensely in established markets. In Massachusetts, which has a burgeoning residential sector, installers that offer third-party financing far outnumber those who only offer cash sales. It is expected that the market share of third-party systems in Massachusetts will soon reach the levels seen in the other three states presented: Arizona, California, and Colorado. In the other major residential markets of New Jersey and Hawaii, where data is not available regarding third-party ownership, conversations with prominent solar providers suggest that levels of third-party penetration are similar to those seen in California and Colorado (70%-80%).

The success of third-party residential solar providers has attracted more than $600 million in new investments in recent months. Leading financial institutions have raised company-specific funds for solar providers to either offer to installer partners or use to install systems under their own name. This influx of cash into the residential space signifies the growing acceptance of solar leases as a secure investment and a unique way to reduce tax liability for the project owners, which in this case are the investors. It is expected that third-party installations will quickly claim even more market share in the coming quarters.

Figure 2-3: Percentage of Third-Party Owned Residential Installations in AZ, CA, CO & MA, 2009 - Q2 2012


Quarter-over-quarter, the national weighted-average system price fell by 22 percent, from $4.44/W to $3.45/W. Year-over-year, average installed costs declined by 33 percent. This average number is heavily impacted by the volume of utility-scale solar installed in a given quarter, and there was substantially more in the second quarter of 2012 compared to Q1. It should be noted that prices reported in this section are weighted averages based on all systems that were completed in Q2 in many locations.

  • RESIDENTIAL system prices fell by 6 percent from Q1 2012 to Q2 2012, as the national average installed price dropped from $5.81/W to $5.46/W. Year-over-year, installed costs declined by 14.1 percent. The most significant price decline came in California, which saw the average residential installation cost drop from $6.27/W to $5.73/W. This is a result of smaller CSI rebates, falling equipment costs, and third-party providers’ system prices being lower than ever before.
  • NON-RESIDENTIAL system prices fell by 5.4 percent quarter-over-quarter from $4.63/W to $4.38/W. Year-over-year, installed costs declined by 13.8 percent. New Jersey, the largest nonresidential state market in Q2, led the low-cost charge, as developers attempted to counteract low SREC prices by streamlining installation processes as much as possible. For projects in excess of 100 kilowatts, final project prices were consistently in the $2.50/W-$2.75/W range, which created tight margins for developers and installers. California also experienced significant price declines, as the average non-residential system price fell from $5.43/W to $5.16/W, largely spurred by diminishing CSI rebates.
  • UTILITY system prices once again declined quarter-over-quarter, dropping from $2.90/W in Q1 2012 to $2.60/W in Q2 2012. Year-over-year, installed prices fell by 33 percent. This low average price was heavily influenced by two factors. First, three of the six projects over 25 MW completed in Q2 were built by vertically integrated manufacturer project developers, who employed their own technologies. Second, the other three completed projects over 25 MW employed low-cost Chinese-made modules.
Figure 2-4: National Weighted Average System Prices, 2010 - Q2 2012


Pricing for polysilicon and PV components continued to exhibit softness in Q2 2012 due to the persistence of the global oversupply environment that the industry has faced since early 2011. Blended contract and spot polysilicon prices declined by 27 percent quarter-over-quarter to $23/ kg. Blended module average sales prices (ASPs) for Q2 2012 were down to $0.87/W, a staggering 44 percent lower than Q2 2011 levels of $1.56/W. Thus far, module pricing does not appear to be materially affected by antidumping tariffs on modules containing Chinese cells, even though tolling cells through Taiwan does impose a slight cost increase on manufacturers. Assuming a $0.22/W wafer-to-cell conversion cost in Taiwan (compared to $0.16/W in China) and an additional $0.03/W cost increase for third-party sourcing (based on a 5% tolling margin), this equates to an overall tolling cost difference of around $0.08/W. However, this increase does not prohibit China-based suppliers from continuing to provide relatively low-priced modules to U.S. developers. Coupled with further conversion cost reductions and the continuing decline in ASPs, a significant increase in U.S. pricing some in the industry had expected has not materialized. Blended average factory-gate inverter pricing dropped to $0.23/W on the quarter from $0.25/W in Q1, although this trend had more to do with product shipment mixes rather than actual competitive dynamics.

Figure 2-5: U.S. Polysilicon, Wafer, Cell and Module Prices, Q2 2011-Q2 2012


This quarter, the full-year 2012 forecast has been revised downward slightly from 3.3 GW to 3.2 GW. A strong second half of the year is still expected, driven by a slight recovery in the California commercial market as well as large utility installation figures in Q4. By year’s end, it is anticipated that the utility market will account for 54% of annual installations, up from 40% in 2011. Still, the overall growth rate will have slowed to 71%, and expect a further slowdown in market expansion in 2013 to 21%. This will usher in a new period, from 2012-2016, with relatively lower but still impressive annual growth in the 25% to 30% range.

As the U.S. solar industry progresses toward 2016, it is becoming increasingly clear that system prices will fall significantly. This will enable a substantial volume of installations in some states to be built using only federal incentives. At first, these installations will only be feasible in locations with high insolation and high retail electricity prices (e.g., parts of PG&E territory in California). However, as system prices continue to fall, additional markets will open up and drive demand despite the likelihood of waning state-level financial support for solar projects. Effective state policies, particularly those pertaining to net-metering and permitting, will still be needed in order to accelerate deployment in some markets.

Midway through 2012, it is also time to begin to consider the landscape of the U.S. market in 2017, at which point the Investment Tax Credit may no longer be in place. While this is not a foregone conclusion, prudent solar businesses will begin preparing for the possibility today. Over the next few quarters SEIA and GTM Research will dedicate more attention to considering what that scenario might look like.

Figure 2-6: U.S. PV Installations by Market Segment, 2011-2016E
Figure 2-7: Top Ten State Forecast for 2012



In Q2 2012, Cogentrix’s 30 MWac Alamosa Solar project using Amonix’s CPV technology was the sole utility-scale concentrating solar project to come on-line. However, during the quarter, there was additional progress made on several of the large CSP projects under development;

  • Construction progressed at BrightSource’s Ivanpah Project, with 92% of pylon installation complete at Unit 1 at the end of June
  • BrightSource acquired Palen Solar from Solar Trust of America and plans to petition the California Energy Commission for a change to its power-tower technology
  • Two CSP projects, the 100 MW Quartzsite Project and the 100 MW Moapa Solar Energy Center, were expedited under President Obama’s “We Can’t Wait” initiative
  • SunPower signed an agreement with an undisclosed major U.S. utility for a 6 MW project utilizing its C7 CPV technology and is expected to bring the project on-line next year
Figure:3-1: Major US Concentrating Solar Project Development Highlights


SEIA® and GTM Research Deliver the Most Comprehensive U.S. Solar Market Analysis and Industry Data Available Today.

U.S. Solar Market Insight™ brings high-quality, solar-specific analysis and forecasts to industry professionals in the form of quarterly and annual reports.

These reports present market conditions, opportunities and outlooks for the photovoltaics (PV) and concentrating solar power (CSP) markets in the U.S. Primary data for the reports is collected directly from installers, manufacturers, state agencies and utilities. That data is analyzed to provide comprehensive upstream and downstream analysis on installations, costs, manufacturing, and market projections.

U.S. Solar Market Insight™ is offered quarterly in two versions– Executive Summary and Full Report. The Executive Summary is free, and the Full Report is available individually each quarter or as part of an annual subscription.


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