Could the U.S. solar energy market really be the world's biggest one day?
According to SEIA Director of Policy and Research Tom Kimbis during today’s press conference, announcing GTM’s and the Solar Energy Industries Association’s (SEIA) “2010 U.S. Solar Market Insight: Year in Review” report, the answer is yes, and it might happen sooner than you think--within three to four years.
The report found that in 2010 the U.S. solar industry saw impressive growth.
The amount of photovoltaics (PVs) installed in 2010 more than doubled to 878 megawatts over 2009, which saw 435 MWs installed, according to GTM Research Managing Director Shayle Kann.
2010 also saw the first concentrating solar plant come on line in the U.S. in more than 20 years, the 75-MW Martin Next Generation Solar Energy Center in Florida. In all, 956 MWs of solar was installed in the U.S. in 2010, bringing the cumulative solar power capacity in the U.S. to 2,600 MWs.
The growth in installations also grew the market value of the industry to $6.0 billion in 2010, up from $3.6 billion in 2009, a 67 percent increase.
The solar industry significantly outpaced gross domestic product (GDP) growth in the U.S. last year, which grew at rate of less than 3 percent, Kimbis said.
“All signs point to the U.S. becoming a true world class market in the future,” said Kimbis. “Solar was the fastest growing energy industry in the U.S. in 2010. More impressive is the current pipeline of projects. If we stay on track to achieve our goal of 10 gigawatts of new annual installed solar capacity by 2015 in the U.S., we will be the largest market in the world by 2013.”
The current pipeline of projects includes more than 6,000 MWs of solar that’s expected to come online in the next few years, Kann said.
However, in 2010, international growth slightly outpaced U.S. growth, Kann said.
“I think you’ll see that change in 2011. We’re going to see the U.S. market gaining in global demand,” he said.
Internationally, companies are starting to look very seriously at how they can serve the U.S. market, he said.
Four major factors contributed the explosive growth in the U.S., according to Kann. He said they were the marcoeconomic conditions at the federal level. He also said price declines in photovoltaics were a major contributing factor—costs fell between 8 percent and 20 percent in 2010.
Another major driver was the emergence of the utility market. Previously, solar was primarily driven by commercial developments. But 2010 was the first year the U.S. market really saw the utility-scale market take off, Kann said.
The final major growth factor was the 1603 Treasury Grant Program, according to Kann. He said it was an important tool that made up for the absence of a strong tax-equity market, which is still recovering from the recession.
“In absence of the program, there would have been major bottlenecks,” he said.