In ‘burst of energy,’ New Jersey Outshines California15. June 2012 | Global PV markets, Markets & Trends | By: Cheryl Kaften
The U.S. added several more notches to its “sunbelt” during the first quarter (Q1) of 2012, according to a newly released market report. During the first three months of the year, Tennessee (number five), Hawaii (six),and North Carolina (seven) secured spots among the top ten states, ranked by installed solar capacity—pushing Maryland (12), Oregon (13), and Texas (15) farther down the list.
In a surprising "burst of energy," New Jersey overtook California, with 173.8 megawatts (MW) installed in the Garden State compared to 148.4 MW deployed in the Golden State.
The research—commissioned by the Solar Energy Industries Association and compiled by GTM Research—was the subject of a media briefing on June 13; hosted by Tom Kimbis, vice president of Strategies and Affairs for America’s largest solar trade association; and by Shayle Kann, vice president of Research for Boston-based GTM.
Overall, during an extremely strong first quarter, the U.S. industry installed 514.2 MW of solar photovoltaic (PV) capacity, representing an 88 percent increase in deployment, year-over-year. There was a considerable upturn in demand across each of the three market segments, with:
• 93.9 MW in residential installations, up 31 percent from Q1 2011;
• 288.8 MW deployed in the commercial sector, up 77 percent; and
• 131.6 MW in utility build, more than doubling (246 percent) activity for the same period in 2011.
Tax and policy incentives
The upsurge in installations during the first quarter has been largely attributable to attractive pricing and to the 30 percent federal Investment Tax Credit (ITC) available until 2016 for renewable energy projects, based on the report.
Specifically, the price of a completed residential array fell 7.3 percent, year-over-year, from Q1 2011; commercial installed prices fell 11.5 percent, and utility prices fell 24.7 percent. Thus, the overall blended average installed system price fell 17.2 percent from the cost of deployment during the same period last year. Even more compelling: The average price of a solar panel, alone, has declined by 47 percent since Q1 2011.
In addition to projects that are taking advantage of the ITC, many safe harbor initiatives already are well on their way to completion and still remain eligible for funding under Section 1603 of The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (which the U.S. Congress allowed to expire at the end of 2011). According to SEIA’s Tom Kimbis, "Around 1 gigawatt of safe harbor product remains."
What’s more, Kimbis notes, “Solar leasing is really taking off in many states in which it is legislatively allowed—and solar companies are lobbying hard to see that it is made available nationwide."
"During a time of consolidation, when the economy is still trying to get on its feet, [the availability of new funding mechanisms, such as leasing] is really encouraging," comments Kimbis. "We don’t see this growth in installation slowing down for the rest of 2012. This report revises our previous estimate to 3.2 GW in U.S. installations this year, with expansion across the entire country."
And with the growth in installations will come jobs. "The new jobs within the solar market are not being created solely by manufacturers," explained Kann. "We are seeing a shift in the United States, with many new opportunities in the downstream portion of the pipeline. Installers, architects, suppliers, and distributors are doing extremely well."
Not all rosy
The experts say, however, that the industry outlook is not completely optimistic, due to problems in the manufacturing sector, tensions among international trade partners, and squabbling in the U.S. Congress.
"Worldwide, the manufacturing side is not in great shape," admits Kimbis. "We’re affected by World Trade Organization cases; such as the current dumping and countervailing duty complaints lodged against China’s solar industry by U.S. manufacturers."
In addition: he says, "there is economic instability in the European Union, and we continue to grapple with a global oversupply of modules—which may be good for pricing, but leaves production at a standstill."
Kann agrees. "It’s still a very difficult time to be a solar manufacturer. That’s true, whether you are in the United States, Germany, or China. The oversupply is huge and module prices are falling below a dollar a watt."
Speaking on behalf of his association, Kimbis stated, "SEIA has called on all parties to the WTO cases, as well as the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus (APAC), to start formal talks on renewable energy—to ensure that the current, ongoing disputes can be resolved quickly and do less damage to our industry. Unfortunately, it’s likely that the downturn in the manufacturing sector will continue to the end of the year."
Kimbis also pointed to politics as usual as a source of industry obstacles and deterrents. "It has certainly been frustrating here in Washington, DC, to see solar being politicized during the federal election season. Solar is being used as a political football and the rhetoric has not been limited to either presidential campaign. We feel strongly here at SEIA that solar technology should not be a political issue. It’s a rapidly growing technology that is creating jobs now and adding to our workforce in all 50 states (including small businesses). While distorting our business makes a great attack ad, they really should focus on more substantive and pertinent issues."
Kann expects that growth in the near-term will be seen in Massachusetts and New York, where there is legislation that "should pop up in the commercial market in 2013 and over the next few years." In addition, he points to Hawaii, "where the market is extremely strong, thanks to the fact that high electric prices make solar attractive."
He notes that, next year remains an open question. "There are a few factors—including the impact of our trade position and the import tariff on Chinese cells—which could impact demand in 2013 in a potentially negative way. But it would be unimaginable to consider the U.S. market actually shrinking, year-over-year, at any time in the near future. If the market were to grow by only 25 percent in 2013, that would be seen as a downturn."
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