U.S. Solar Installations Climb 33% Led by California

Solar installations in the first quarter increased 33 percent to account for almost half of all new electric capacity installed in the U.S., according to a trade-group report.

Installations grew to 723 megawatts from a year earlier with utility-scale projects accounting for 317.7 megawatts of additions, the Washington-based Solar Energy Industries Association said today in a statement. SEIA expects 5.3 gigawatts will be installed in 2013, topping last year’s 3.3 gigawatts.

Growth will be driven increasingly by solar installations at homes and businesses, Shayle Kann, vice president of research in Boston at GTM Research, which wrote the report with SEIA, said in an interview. Residential installations grew 53 percent in the quarter, Kann said.

“Residential growth has been pretty consistent, but I think you’re going to see it become the most rapidly growing market,” Kann said. “We have relatively bullish forecasts through 2016.”

That pace has quickened with the increase in third-party financing, like those offered by Solarcity Corp. and Sunrun Inc., for home solar projects, reaching more than 80 percent in states like Colorado and California, the report found.

“Right now, financing remains the biggest bottleneck for solar,” Kann said. An even newer business model, crowdfunding of projects, may help financing even more projects.

The value of the U.S. solar market grew 34 percent to $11.5 billion at the end of 2012, up from $8.6 billion in 2011, SEIA said in March. There is now 9.2 gigawatts of solar-energy capacity in the U.S.

California was the top state with 408 megawatts installed in the first quarter, followed by New Jersey at 76 megawatts and Hawaii with 44 megawatts, according to the report.