U.S. PV installations rise 33% in first quarter


The U.S. saw a year-on-year increase of 33% in PV installations to 723 MW in the first three months of the year and solar now accounts for 49% of new electric capacity in the country, according to a report by the GTM Research/SEIA quarterly report.

The U.S. installed 723 MW of PV in the first quarter of 2013, representing a 33% increase from the same period last year.

Photovoltaics continue to be the largest component of solar market growth in the U.S. The U.S. Solar Market Insight report finds that cumulative operating PV capacity in the U.S. currently stands at 7,962 MW. The residential market grew 53% to 163.5 MW capacity compared to the first quarter of 2012, continuing its consistent incremental quarterly growth.

The non-residential market shrank 20% on both a quarterly and annual basis for a first-quarter total of 242.1 MW capacity, reflecting slow demand across a number of major markets.

The report says the development is in line with its outlook for the year and predicts "significantly stronger growth in the residential market than the non-residential market."

The average price for residential PV systems fell below $5.00/W, while the average non-residential system price dropped below $4.00/W.

The utility market more than doubled year over year, with 24 utility PV projects completed between January and March and a total capacity of 317.7 MW.

While residential and non-residential solar grew substantially in the U.S. between 2010 and 2012, the growth rate paled in comparison to that of the utility market, which saw PV installations grow 670% in the period — a development the report describes as "the most dramatic transformation in the U.S. solar market." In 2012 alone, utilities connected 1,769 MW of PV to the grid – 59% more than the cumulative total in all previous years.

Examining concentrating solar power (CSP and CPV), the report says the U.S. installed 6 MWac of concentrating solar capacity, including SunPower’s first commercial deployment of its C7 low-concentrating PV tracker technology. Cumulative operating CSP and CPV capacity in the U.S. now stands at 552 MWac.

The report also predicts that 2013 will see the most CSP commissioning in history, with more than 900 MWac expected to come online. BrightSource Energy’s Ivanpah project is on track to be completed in 2013. Abengoa Solar and BrightSource energy signed a partnership for the construction and operation of the 500 MWac Palen Solar project.

Looking forward, the GTM Research/SEIA report predicted "that the next four years will be marked by a new solar revolution in the U.S., this time driven by the distributed generation (DG) market."

While residential and commercial solar markets have historically been capped by the availability of state and utility-level incentives, solar has now become cost-effective in some markets with only the federal investment tax credit (ITC), accelerated depreciation and net metering.

The report highlights the shift in California, where a number of installations have been completed without California Solar Initiative incentives, which have been that market’s main driver since 2007.

California leads the way in solar, boasting lion's share of U.S. capacity with 408 MW.

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