U.S. Solar Power Rises 69 Percent, Led by Commercial Projects

Developers installed 69 percent more U.S. solar power capacity in the second quarter than a year earlier, led by commercial and government projects.

Developers installed 314.3 megawatts of solar photovoltaic power in the second quarter, compared with 186.5 megawatts in the same period a year earlier, according to the U.S. Solar Market Insight report released today by Solar Energy Industries Association and GTM Research.

Much of the growth was due to government incentives, including a U.S. Treasury Department program that reimburses developers 30 percent of projects’ costs, said Rhone Resch, the Washington-based trade group’s president. That program is set to expire at the end of the year.

“Solar is the fastest growing industry in the U.S.,” Resch said in an interview yesterday. “Our growth has directly benefited from the Treasury grant program. We have to keep those programs in place to keep up the pace and hire more workers.”

SEIA expects 2012 to be a “more difficult year” for the U.S. solar market, with a potential “downturn” in California, New Jersey and Pennsylvania and the end of the Treasury grant program, the report said.

Commercial and government projects made up about half of the new installations in the second quarter, growing 22 percent from the first quarter. Residential projects accounted for about 30 percent and utility-scale plants were 16 percent.

California led the U.S. with 30 percent of new solar projects, down from 42 percent in the first quarter. New Jersey, the second-fastest-growing solar state, increased to 24 percent from 15 percent. The next five states combined increased share to 29 percent from 25 percent.

Solar Bankruptcies

After the bankruptcies of Solyndra LLC, Evergreen Solar Inc. and SpectraWatt Inc. in the past five weeks, more than 100,000 Americans are employed in the solar industry, Resch said, twice as many as in 2009.

Average system prices were little changed, with slight price declines in utility and non-residential markets counteracting a small rise in residential system prices.

The U.S. is expected to install 1,750 megawatts of photovoltaic panels in 2011, double last year’s total and enough to power 350,000 homes, SEIA said.

The trade group represents about 1,000 companies involved in the solar-energy industry, including installers, manufacturers, developers and financial companies.

To contact the reporter on this story: Ehren Goossens in New York at egoossens1@bloomberg.net.

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Reed Landberg at landberg@bloomberg.net.

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