U.S. Solar Grew 76% in 2012 Led by Utility-Scale Projects

U.S. solar panel installations grew 76 percent in 2012 to 3.3 gigawatts, representing a tenth of the global market, led by large-scale projects in the desert southwest, according to the Solar Energy Industries Association.

In 2013, photovoltaic installations are expected to grow 29 percent to reach 4.3 gigawatts along with 946 megawatts of concentrating solar thermal power, which uses mirrors to focus the sun’s energy to drive generators, the Washington-based trade group forecast today in a statement. SEIA said Dec. 11 it had expected installations to grow to 4 gigawats this year.

Last year was led by the first "really large utility-scale projects coming online," eight of the ten largest, Shayle Kann, vice president of research at GTM Research, said in an interview. The Boston-based consulting company collaborated with SEIA on the quarterly solar report.

Installations in the fourth quarter accounted for about two-fifths of the year’s total, in part driven by developers racing to qualify for expiring incentives, according to SEIA.

The residential market benefited from the continued expansion of third-party financing from installers and providers, like Solarcity Corp. and Sunrun Inc. Commercial projects, those that provide power directly to businesses and institutions, were boosted by improving economics and a boom in in the second half of the year in New Jersey, Hawaii and Massachusetts, Kann said.

California, Arizona

"We’ve brought more new solar online in 2012 than in the three prior years combined," Rhone Resch, president and chief executive officer of SEIA, said in the statement. The U.S. installed 16 million solar panels last year, more than two panels per second of the work day, Resch said.

California accounted for almost a third of all installations, with 1 gigawatt installed last year. Arizona followed with 710 megawatts and New Jersey with 415 megawatts.

The value of the U.S. market grew 34 percent to $11.5 billion, up from $8.6 billion in 2011. The U.S. has cumulatively installed 7.2 gigawatts of photovoltaic panels and 546 megawatts of concentrating solar thermal power.

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