Falling prices for solar panels and the looming expiration of a federal tax provision drove U.S. photovoltaic (PV) solar installations to record levels in 2011. From home rooftops to business warehouses to utility-scale power plants, installations totaled 1,855 megawatts (MW) in 2011, more than double the previous mark of 887 MW, set the year before, the trade group Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA) and GTM Research said today.
Activity was especially furious in the fourth quarter of the year, when 755 MW were installed. Many investors were racing to commission projects before the anticipated expiration of the U.S. government’s 1603 Treasury Program, which ended Dec. 31, 2011, the report said.
The 1603 program allowed renewable energy developers to receive a grant for up to 30 percent of the cost of a project in lieu of claiming an energy tax credit, but despite intense industry lobbying, Congress wouldn’t bite on extending the grants into 2012 and beyond.
That could put a bit of crimp into growth this year, although other subsidies and, perhaps most importantly, falling prices remain as big incentives. They were a huge factor in 2011, when, according to the SEIA, growth “was spurred in part by declining installed solar photovoltaic (PV) system prices, which fell 20 percent last year on the back of lower component costs.”
Taking it all into consideration, the report forecast installation of more than 2,800 MW in 2012—a 50 percent annual growth rate, down significantly from the 109 percent growth the industry saw in 2011. Still, 2,800 MW is a huge number considering that at the end of 2011, cumulative installed PV capacity in the U.S. was at 3,954 MW. “Beyond 2012, the report forecasts installations to continue their ascendancy at a compound annual growth rate of 30 percent through 2016,” the SEIA said.
Some 800 of the 1,855 MW installed in 2011 were in the commercial sector, followed by 758 MW in utility PV and 297 MW in residential installations. The jump in utility-scale installations was especially notable, tripling in 2010 as big projects got going in the Southwest.