The latest quarterly edition of the ‘U.S. Solar Market Insight’ report, published by the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA) and GTM Research, reveals continued strong growth in PV installations in the US. Grid-connected PV installations in the first quarter of 2011 increased 66% compared to the same quarter a year ago to reach 252MW. Cumulative grid-connected PV in the US has now reached over 2.3GW, according to the report. PV module production also increased in the US, growing by 17% relative to the fourth quarter of 2010, and up from 297MW to 348MW.

Although the first quarter installations were down form the fourth quarter figures due to seasonality, the report is forecasting installations to double in 2011. With nearly 900MW installed in 2010, the US could see installations reach nearly 2GW this year.

The forecast comes at a crucial time for the PV industry as both the German and Italian markets have experienced a prolonged slump in installations in the first-half of the year. Increasingly, attention has turned to the US in the hope that conditions were better, especially for the important utility-scale market that could help in averting negative growth for the industry in 2011.

According to the report, the US market id beginning to benefit from substantial price declines, which have seen wafer and cell prices decline by as much as 15% and module prices declining by approximately 7%.

Residential system prices remained virtually flat from Q4 2010 to Q1 2011, with the national average installed price dropping from US$6.42/W to US$6.40/W.

This decline in prices is particularly important to non-residential projects, especially in California as the lack of CSI (California Solar Initiative) incentives has made project economics more difficult to achieve so price declines are seen a positive move.

However, utility installations were relatively light in the first quarter of 2011. Utility installations only accounted for 13% of total installed capacity in Q1 2011 compared to 46% in Q4 2010. The largest project completed in Q1 was a 6.7MW project in Porterville, CA which is part of Southern California Edison’s PV program.

The report does expect 2011 will be a record year for utility installations. In addition to the number projects already completed, there are 886MW of contracted projects expected to be completed in 2011, of which 447MW are already under construction.

The US market had also previously been impacted by a shortage of top-tier modules due to the rapid installation expansion in key European markets in 2010. That situation has reversed with the report anticipating higher allocations of top-tier modules available in the US this year.

With respect to PV manufacturing, the report noted that 71% of manufacturing in the US in Q1 was crystalline silicon-based. Due primarily to First Solar, CdTe-based module production made-up 22% of manufacturing, while CIGS stood at 6% and amorphous Si at 1%.

Thin-film technologies accounted for 30% of US-based PV module production in the first quarter of 2011. The report expects this figure to increase over the next few years as companies continue to ramp capacity.