Geography in the News: Solar Energy Industry Flares in 2011

The Solar Energy industry in the U.S. is experiencing tremendous growth.  2011 was a record breaking year for installations of photovoltaics (PV), which convert sunlight directly to electricity.  The overall US capacity of PV has now reached 3,954 MW (megawatts), enough to power 800,000 homes.  A whopping 1,855 MW were installed in 2011 alone, an increase of 109% over 2010.  The US global market share now stands at 7% and the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA)® anticipates growth to continue over the next five years, reaching a nearly 15% global market share by 2016.  Installations for 2012 are forecasted at 2,800 MW.

A quarterly report published by the SEIA and GTM Research cites one of the major contributors to the rapid growth was the 20% price decline of PV systems over the course of the last year, due in large part to lower component costs as well as improved installation efficiency, expanding financing options, and a shift toward larger systems nationwide. Additionally, some good news/bad news for the industry was the expiration of the federal government’s 1603 Treasury program (on 12/31/11) which impelled developers to commission projects before year end; the industry will need to revert back to tax equity financing.

The solar energy industry market segments are: Residential, Non-Residential (mainly commercial), and Utilities.  While installations for the residential segment were up 11%, non-residential grew by 127% and utilities showed the most gain at 185%.  The top ten states with the most US Grid-Connected PV Capacity (MW) are:

State Approx. MW
California 1564
New Jersey 573
Arizona 383
Colorado 212
New Mexico 159
Nevada 149
Pennsylvania 143
New York 116
North Carolina 95
Florida 94

The interest in solar energy gained in popularity during the energy crisis of the 1970s. Market entry was prohibitive as prices were nearly 30 times greater than today, making large scale usage impractical. However, through much research and development, harnessing the energy of the sun has become a great deal more feasible. Will 2012 be the year your business goes solar?