The steady growth of solar energy installation continues in a steep trajectory, as shown in a first-quarter report for U.S. solar. In the first three months of 2013, 723 megawatts of new solar capacity were installed. This number represents a 33% increase over the first quarter of 2012, which was a huge year for solar. Of the new electrical generating capacity installed in the first quarter in the U.S., 48% was solar energy.
Largely because of the increase in distributed or “behind the meter” installations, solar is quickly becoming a significant part of the energy picture in the U.S.
The following facts and statistics show that solar’s time has arrived in the U.S.:
· From 2010 to 2012 alone, there was a 670% increase in utility solar photovoltaic (PV) installations.
· In 2012, 1,769 megawatts (MW) of utility PV was connected to the grid; this amount comes to 59% more than all prior years’ cumulative total. There was substantial growth in residential and business solar installations, but the amounts were still far behind growth in the utility market.
· Total cumulative operating solar PV capacity in the U.S. is now 7,962 MW.
· There has been steady incremental quarterly growth in residential solar installation. For example, Q1 2013 grew 53% over Q1 2012 and 11% over Q4 2012.
· A slow demand for the non-residential market is apparent, since the market shrank 20% quarterly and annually.
· Twenty-four utility PV projects were completed in this year’s first quarter; year-over-year the utility market has more than doubled.
· From the first quarter of 2012 to the first quarter of 2013, prices of residential PV systems fell 15.8% from $5.86 per watt installed to $4.93 per W; and, on average, non-residential system prices fell below $4.00 per W. Installed prices dropped by 1.9% quarter-over-quarter.
· In most major residential markets for solar, prices came down, including in New Jersey, California, and Arizona. At this time it isn’t unusual for final installed prices to be in the range of $4 per W.
· Solar PV, which directly converts sunlight into electricity, continues to be the largest area of U.S. solar market growth.
· The residential solar market has grown steadily and incrementally with no market volatility or seasonality showing up on a national basis. In 12 of the past 13 quarters, the residential market has seen quarterly growth ranging from 4% to 21%, and the first quarter of 2013 is in the middle of that range.
· The top three notable residential growth markets for Q1 2013 as compared with Q4 2012 are: California, up 39%; Hawaii, up 2%; and New Jersey, up 11%.
· The utility market is difficult to measure; it is dependent on individual project timelines and is basically too volatile. While utility installations were down in Q1 2013 as compared with Q4 2012, they were up 130% as compared with Q1 2012.
· For non-residential systems, prices dropped from $4.64 per W to $3.92 per W, which is a 15.6% decrease year-over-year. Quarter-over-quarter, installed prices dropped by 8.1%. In Texas, non-residential systems went from a cost of $6.36 per W to $3.23 per W, while installed prices in Massachusetts and New Jersey stayed flat.
Whatever else may be happening in the U.S. economy, the forecast for solar is bright and sunny.