Is the US solar energy market finally poised for growth? Based on data from the first quarter of the year, solar installations in the US have doubled from 2011 levels, according to GTM Research in a study conducted for the Solar Energy Industries Association.
Reuters today reported that 506 megawatts of solar capacity were added in the first three months of the year. The spike is spurring optimism among proponents of solar power, although Reuters reports that the uptick was likely due to projects that were qualified under US government grant programs that expired in 2011.
The article notes: "GTM said that following the first-quarter data, it had raised its forecast for U.S. installations to 3,300 MW this year, up from the 2,500-2,800 MW, it had predicted in March."
The boost is also surprising given that the US solar industry is embroiled in a trade dispute with China. The US Commerce Department is charging China with dumping solar equipment in the US and has imposed tariffs on imports. IHS iSuppli has predicted Chinese solar imports could represent as much as 60 percent of the US market for solar power in 2012.
Two companies in particular, Suntech-Power and Trina Solar, were subjected to US tariff rates of 31.22 percent and 31.14 percent, respectively, according to IHS iSuppli. This could help turn the tide for domestic solar equipment makers. Prices are expected to increase as inventory buildup in North American begins to decline and China targets other markets.
For consumers, installation prices dropped to below $1 per watt for the first time. Reuters adds:
- Utility-scale solar costs fell 24.7 percent, while commercial-scale projects, which are typically installed by companies or municipalities, dropped 11.5 percent.
Costs for residential solar systems fell 7.3 percent, even as the year-over-year installation volume rose by nearly a third.
Those home rooftop systems remain the smallest segment of the solar market, but have shown steady growth in recent years, helped by the introduction of the solar lease programs from several companies.