U.S. Solar Surges 44% in Third Quarter Driven by Rooftops

Dec. 11 (Bloomberg) -- Developers installed 684 megawatts of solar panels in the U.S. in the third quarter, 44 percent more than a year earlier, as residential projects rose to a record, according to the Solar Energy Industries Association.

About 3.2 gigawatts of solar energy will be installed in the U.S. this year, the Washington-based trade group forecast today in a statement.

Installations in the current quarter may almost double from the third quarter to 1,200 megawatts, which would be the most ever in a three-month period. Fourth-quarter installations have accounted for more than 40 percent of the annual totals in the past two years, driven in part by developers racing to qualify for expiring incentives, according to SEIA.

“While Q3 2012 was remarkable for the U.S. PV market, it is just the opening act for what we expect to see in Q4,” Shayle Kann, vice president of research at GTM Research, said in the statement. The Boston-based consulting company collaborated with SEIA on the quarterly solar report.

Fourth-quarter installation last year made up 42 percent of 2011’s almost 1,900 megawatts, according to SEIA. Developers were seeking to qualify for a U.S. Treasury program that expired at the end of the year and paid cash grants equal to as much as 30 percent of projects’ costs.

Residential systems increased 12 percent in the third quarter from the prior quarter to 119 megawatts as falling panel prices and the growing popularity of solar-leasing programs made it easier and less costly for homeowners to install rooftop solar panels, according to the statement.

Non-residential solar projects, comprising commercial and government systems, jumped 24 percent from the second quarter to 258 megawatts, driven by strong demand in California and Massachusetts.

SEIA expects installations to rise 25 percent to almost 4 gigawatts next year and to reach 5.4 gigawatts in 2014.

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