2011- A Solar Odyssey

Cue the kettle drums and start playing the music from 2001, a Space Odyssey by Stanley Kubrick.
2011 was a banner year for the growth of solar in the U.S., Canada and around the world. Solar technology is being embraced and adopted by more and more residential solar consumers and small businesses every day. We are continuing to set records every month it seems in the number of Solar PV and Solar Thermal installations that are being added.

GTM Research and the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA), who made a recent U.S. Solar Marketplace Insight report, estimate the U.S. solar market’s complete value surpassed $ 8.4 billion in 2011.

Along with increasing demand, system prices fell 20 percent because of lower priced components, better installation methods and the shift to larger arrays. Price drops for manufacturers became an installer boom. With the expiring 1603 program from the US treasury many developers pushed to get their projects done quickly. The 1603 program was set up to allow renewable energies to get 30 percent of the cost of a new project back as a cash grant as soon as the construction was completed.

Over 61,000 solar PV systems were installed in 2011, bringing the total to about 214,000.

California led the nation, installing 542 megawatts of solar. But the No. 2 overall market, New Jersey with 313 megawatts, installed the most solar energy in commercial projects of any state: about 227 megawatts to California’s 195. Solar is growing in every state in the U.S. and every province in Canada too. As traditional energy production costs increase, solar parity is being approached much quicker than expected. The fact that solar works well across Northern latitudes is also dispelling the myth that solar is only good for warmer climates. Germany actually leads the world in solar installations and they have just about the same amount of sunshine as Alaska! Their latitude is also farther north than most of the continental U.S.

In a nutshell, a record 1,855 megawatts (MW) of solar PV were added, This doubles the previous record set in 2010, and represents a 109 percent growth rate worldwide.

At the end of 2011 the United States powered almost a million homes with solar power. This is comprised of 4,000 MW of solar PV and 500 MW of concentrating solar. This makes the US the fourth largest solar market in the world after Germany, Italy, and China.

In 2009, two US states generated above 50 MW of solar power each. That set increased to five in 2010. It reached an all time high of eight states in 2011.

Clearly, the solar industry is growing. It can be seen from a production standpoint and an installation standpoint. If renewable energy isn’t its own reward, certainly employment is. Solar power employed over 100,000 people in over 5000 companies over the fifty states.

Inspiration flourished as well in 2011 as well as a group of MIT students came up with a way to use 3-D structures to better extend photovoltaic cells upward in a 3-D configuration that will help better maximize power output. Amazingly, the results from the structures they’ve tested show power output ranging from double to more than 20 times that of fixed flat panels with the same base area.

Innovations like these and increased recognition in the marketplace, joined with competitive pricing just continue to show the increasingly bright future for solar energy.

The United States could rise from the shadow of fossil fuel dependence quickly if the type of growth seen in 2011 continues. In fact, making the US a 100% solar nation would create nearly 10 million jobs and add as much as $450 billion to the economy according to John Farrell of the Institute for Self Reliance.

The sky is the limit! Well, actually no… there is no limit.

Learn more about how Solar Photovoltaic / Solar PV / Solar Electric actually works.

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