Report: 44% third-quarter surge for US PV

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The US solar PV market grew by 684MW in the third quarter of 2012, 44% more than in the same period last year, according to a report by Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA) and GTM Research.

This quarter marked the third largest on record for the US PV industry, raising the total installed capacity through the first three quarters of the year to 1,992MW, surpassing 2011’s annual total of 1,885MW. SEIA and GTM Research expect 2012 growth to top 70% with a record 3.2GW of solar installed – enough to power more than half a million average US homes.

The residential PV sector continues to be the most stable growth segment of the US solar market, installing an all-time high for a quarter of more than 118MW, a growth of 12% over Q2 2012.

Average residential system prices dropped quarter-over-quarter from US$5.45 per watt to US$5.21 per watt nationally while average non-residential prices declined US$0.15 per watt, falling to US$4.18.

Led primarily by growth in California and Massachusetts, the commercial market grew 24% over Q2 2012, hitting 257MW.

Average utility system prices, which are currently at US$2.40 per watt, continue to see the greatest reduction in prices of the three market segments covered, falling by 30% since the third quarter last year.

For the quarter, the top ranked states were California, Arizona, New Jersey, Massachusetts and Nevada. GTM and SEIA reports that as of 30 September, top states for total cumulative installed solar electric capacity were: California, New Jersey, Arizona, Nevada and Colorado.

Colorado, Florida, Maryland, Massachusetts, and Pennsylvania saw a growth of 5MW or greater compared to the previous quarter.

Moreover, the US Department of the Interior finalised the Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement (PEIS) for large-scale solar energy development in six western US states in October, which should result in a further increase next year. The states include Arizona, California, Colorado, Nevada, New Mexico and Utah.

The programme has been designed to spur the development of solar energy on public lands and provide a blueprint for utility-scale solar energy projects. Solar energy zones have been developed which will have access to existing or planned transmission, incentives for development within those zones and a process through which to consider additional zones and solar projects.

Behind Maryland, Massachusetts saw the greatest quarter-over-quarter increase, up 25MW in Q2 2012 to 40MW this quarter. All Massachusetts installations in Q3 2012 came from the commercial and residential sectors, boosted by the expansion of net metering allowances and an influx of national retailers that offer leasing and other innovative “third-party” ownership models. 

The GTM and SEIA research teams expect third-party leased PV systems to remain a hot option in the market for homeowners into 2013 and beyond. During this quarter, residential PV markets in Arizona, Colorado, California and Massachusetts saw third-party systems range from 57 to 91% of total residential system installations.

The Interstate Renewable Energy Council's report in September attributed a 33% growth in utility-scale projects in California to the state’s Renewable Portfolio Standard by 2020. In 2011, 626MW, equivalent to 90% of the utility-sector installations, were in states with RPS requirements, said the report.

“This quarter’s record residential growth shows the power of innovation in the US solar industry,” said Rhone Resch, President and CEO of SEIA. “With costs continuing to come down and new financing options, solar energy is affordable today for more families, businesses, utilities and the military. Thanks to smart long-term policy, the solar industry is growing to meet the challenge of putting Americans back to work and helping to grow both our nation’s economy and our clean energy portfolio.”

Cumulatively, there are now 5.9GW of PV operating in the US from more than 271,000 installations. Combined with concentrating solar power facilities there are more than 6.4GW of solar electric capacity installed in the US, enough to power more than one million average American households.

Next year, the BrightSource Energy Ivanpah project in California, which is progressing on schedule, is expected to add a further 392 MW. Meanwhile BrightSource’s 200MW Sonoran West Project has received unanimous approval from the California Public Utilities Commission.

Abengoa’s Solana 280MW Generating Station in Arizona is over 75% complete and expected to be online in summer 2013. And SolarReserve continues power purchase agreement discussions with Tri-State and Xcel for its 200MW Saguache project in Colorado.

“While Q3 2012 was remarkable for the US PV market, it is just the opening act for what we expect to see in Q4,” said Shayle Kann, Vice-President of research at GTM.

“We forecast more than 1.2GW of PV to be installed next quarter on the back of developers who are pushing to meet year-end deadlines in both the utility and commercial segments. We also expect to see the residential PV market post another record number in Q4, as third-party residential installers gain more traction in mature, cost-effective markets.”

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