Developers installed 85 percent more solar panels in the U.S. in the first quarter than a year earlier, led by strong growth in commercial projects and demand in New Jersey, according to the Solar Energy Industries Association.
Total U.S. installations were 506 megawatts in the quarter and may reach 3,300 megawatts this year, about 11 percent of the 2012 global market, the Washington-based trade group said today in its quarterly market report.
That will make the U.S. the fourth-largest solar market this year, and one of the few countries where growth is expected to continue for the foreseeable future, according to GTM Research, a Boston consulting company that prepared the report with SEIA. Falling prices are making solar energy an economical energy choice for U.S. homeowners and businesses.
“The economics have improved dramatically, with companies realizing it’s a good hedge against rising energy prices,” Rhone Resch, chief executive officer of SEIA, said in an interview.
Non-residential solar projects, which include commercial, government and non-profit companies, totaled 288.8 megawatts, up 77 percent from a year earlier, according to the report.
New Jersey, the top solar state, added 174 megawatts in the quarter, 34 percent of all U.S. installations, including 122 megawatts of non-residential projects.
California was the second-largest solar market with 148 megawatts installed. The top global markets this year will be Germany, Italy and China.
Installed prices for all U.S. solar systems fell 17 percent to $4.44 a watt. Prices for utility plants dropped 25 percent, residential installed prices fell 7.3 percent, and non-residential projects declined 11.5 percent.
The price of solar panels dropped 49 percent in the past year as manufacturers, mainly based in China, increased production and triggered a global oversupply.
The impact of an import tariff on Chinese solar cells and the expiration last year of a U.S. Treasury grant program for renewable energy will be felt most next year, Shayle Kann, vice president at GTM, said in a statement.
“We remain bullish in 2012 on all market segments,” Kann said. “However, 2013 is an open question.”
Total U.S. solar installations may grow to 10 gigawatts a year by 2015, Resch said.