U.S. Solar Grows 140% in Third Quarter, Led by Utility Projects

Solar Power Plant
U.S. developers installed more solar panels in the third quarter than in all of 2009 as utility-scale projects drove up demand. Photographer: Tom Nagy

U.S. developers installed more solar panels in the third quarter than in all of 2009 as utility-scale projects drove up demand.

Developers added 449.2 megawatts of solar-generating capacity in the quarter, up 140 percent from 187.3 megawatts in the same quarter last year, according to the U.S. Solar Market Insight report released today by Solar Energy Industries Association and GTM Research.

Utility-scale projects accounted for more than 200 megawatts in the third quarter, the largest market segment. That trend will likely continue in the current quarter as power plants that have been in development for years finally begin construction and start to produce power, Shayle Kann, GTM’s managing director of solar analysis said in an interview yesterday.

“There has always been a big pipeline of utility-scale projects that take a while to get constructed,” Kann said in an interview. “We are expecting to see that through 2012.”

The U.S. will install a total of about 1.7 gigawatts of solar power in 2011, almost as much as two new nuclear power plants, Kann predicted. That’s up from 887 megawatts last year and 435 megawatts in 2009

Residential projects increased 21 percent from a year ago, after two consecutive quarterly declines, led by California where third-party solar leasing companies that build rooftop projects at little or no up-front cost to homeowners are driving up installations. The state accounted for 44 percent of all solar projects last quarter.

Non-residential solar installations, including commercial and government projects, fell 24 percent.

Treasury Program Expiring

Solar installations may slow starting in late 2012 if the U.S. Treasury Department’s 1603 program is not extended, SEIA said. The program provides developers with cash grants equal to as much as 30 percent of projects’ costs and is set to expire at the end of the year.

“Our industry needs stable policy on which to make business decisions,” Rhone Resch, president of the Washington-based trade group, said in a statement. “To keep the industry growing and creating jobs in the U.S. we need Congress to extend the 1603 program.”

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

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