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US Solar Energy Industry Shines In Record-Setting Third Quarter of 2013

Solar panels were installed on more American residential rooftops in the 3rd Quarter of 2013 than any other quarter in history, pushing US installed solar capacity over the 10-gigawatt (GW) milestone and potentially ahead of Germany for the first time.

This sunny picture comes courtesy of the US Solar Market Insight (SMI) Q3 2013 report from GTM Research and the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA), and it shines a spotlight on the economic power of America’s clean energy transition.

Overall solar installations continued to improve quarter-over-quarter across the US, delivering the second-largest quarter of overall installations in the history of America’s solar market.

US Installs 930MW Solar Energy In 3Q, May Pass Germany In 2013

America’s solar industry installed 930 megawatts (MW) of photovoltaic (PV) panels in Q3 2013, 20% higher than Q2 2013 and 35% higher than Q3 2013. This blistering pace vaults America over the 10GW capacity mark to reach 10,250MW overall installed capacity across 400,000 solar projects – enough to power more than 1.7 million average US homes and the emissions equivalent of removing 2.1 million cars from the road.

3Q’s results are remarkable, but the US solar market might just be warming up.  The SMI report predicts 1,780MW of PV solar and 800MW of concentrating solar power (CSP) will be installed in 4Q 2013, meaning America will install over 5GW of new solar energy capacity in 2013 – 27% more than 2012 and a new single-year record.

Even more remarkable, SMI’s forecast means the US could install more overall solar capacity in 2013 than Germany, the world’s undisputed solar market leader. Germany is expected to install 4.2GW new solar capacity this year – placing second to another country for the first time in 15 years. “Without a doubt, 2013 will go down as a record-shattering year for the US solar industry,” said Rhone Resch, SEIA president and CEO.

Residential, Utility Installations Lead The Way

Residential solar led the 3Q charge with the market sector’s best-ever quarter, installing 186MW, up 45% compared to 2012. SMI credits favorable net metering policies for improving the economics of solar PV, but warns declining PV module prices could strain manufacturers while benefiting consumers.

The average price of PV panels have fallen more than 60% since the beginning of 2011 and now stands at a national average of $3.00 per installed watt. “As solar continues its march toward ubiquity, the market will require continued innovation, efficiency improvement and regulatory clarity,” said Shayle Kann, GTM vice president of research.

The utility solar market sector also posted a strong quarter, with 52 projects completed for 539MW and over half of Q3’s total installed capacity. Unfortunately, the rising tide didn’t raise the boats of every industry sector – the non-residential (commercial) market is expected to remain flat through 2013 but may resume growth in 2014. California continues to lead the US solar PV market with 455MW installed in Q3, while Arizona placed second with 169MW installed.

Solar’s Economic Impacts Ripple Across America

But best of all, As we’ve seen time and time again, the transition to a clean energy future also helps create green jobs. America’s solar industry led the US in green job creation during the third quarter, according to a recent report from E2, and had overall ripple effects across the overall economy.

119,000 workers are now employed at 6,100 businesses in the US solar industry, a 13.2% increase over 2011’s employment totals. Solar projects were valued at $11.5 billion by the end of 2012, up from $8.6 billion in 2011, and just $5 billion in 2010. With exponential growth continuing, it’s not hard to expect another overall valuation jump in 2013.

“This unprecedented growth is helping to create thousands of American jobs, save money for US consumers, and reduce pollution nationwide,” said Resch. “Frankly, we’re just scratching the surface of our industry’s enormous potential.”

US Solar Energy Industry Shines In Record-Setting 3Q 2013 was originally published on: CleanTechnica. To read more from CleanTechnica, join over 30,000 other subscribers: RSS | Facebook | Twitter.

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Nathan Wilson's picture
Nathan Wilson on Dec 13, 2013 2:30 am GMT

One additional very useful bit of data: utility-scale solar is still less than half the cost of residential.  Looking past the press release at the detailed data from  SEIA, as of 3Q2013, the average system cost was $4.72/W for residential and $2.04/W for utility installations. 

So all policies (net-metering, feed-in tariffs, etc) which make residential solar look cheaper than utility scale ultimately have the effect of making electricity cost much more (often shifting the cost from the wealthy to the poor), and therefore make it harder for us to afford to replace fossil fuel.  Residential also makes it harder to recycle the panels at end-of-life, makes it more expensive and dangerous to install and maintain the system, and makes it harder to add batteries for storage (needed for high penetration).  Utility scale offers the further advantage of sun-tracking, which boosts output in the morning and evening, so there is less need for storage for the unneeded noon-peak; also it allows other grid-friendly features like VAR support, low-voltage ride-through, and curtailment control (see Sunpower’s Smart Inverter).

Contrary to what the industry lobbyists want us to believe, most of the leading solar states (California, Arizona, North Carolina, and Nevada) have deployed most of their solar generation at the utility scale, which proves that residential solar (with its high cost to society, difficult grid integration, and ugly regulatory battles) is not needed for a vibrant and rapidly growing solar industry.

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