Solar installations doubled last year, with California leading the way

Mar 19, 2012 By Dana Hull

The amount of photovoltaic solar panels installed in the United States more than doubled from 2010 to 2011, representing a historic year for the American solar industry.

A year-in-review report jointly released Wednesday by the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA) and GTM Research found that 1,855 were installed nationwide in 2011, up from 887 megawatts in 2010 - for a growth of 109 percent.

"After a record-breaking 2011, the U.S. has proved itself as a viable market for solar on a global scale," says the executive summary of the report. "In 2011, the U.S. market's share of global (photovoltaic) installations rose from 5 percent to 7 percent and should continue to grow. We forecast U.S. market share to increase steadily over the next five years, ultimately reaching nearly 15 percent in 2016."

Installation figures for photovoltaic, or PV, solar panels, which convert sunlight directly into electricity, include those on homes and businesses as well as much larger, utility-scale plants.

One megawatt is enough to power about 750 to 1,000 homes. But because the sun doesn't shine all the time, experts typically say that 1 megawatt of solar power capacity is sufficient to power about 200 households.

California continued to lead the nation, installing 542 megawatts, accounting for 29 percent of all installations in the country. Next came New Jersey, Arizona and New Mexico.

More than 61,000 individual solar projects were completed in 2011, including many large installations serving commercial or utility scale clients.

There were 28 projects larger than 10 megawatts each, up from just two in 2009.

"We're seeing an incredible increase in the number of utility-scale projects," said Rhone Resch, president and CEO of SEIA. "There's technology acceptance of solar by utilities and companies that traditionally built natural . Solar is the next great opportunity."

The record number of installations was fueled, in part, by a free-fall in solar panel prices, which dropped more than 50 percent in 2011.

But lower prices put enormous pressure on solar manufacturers like Fremont, Calif.-based Solyndra, which filed for bankruptcy in September.

Solar still counts for less than 1 percent of California's electricity, most of which comes from natural gas, two nuclear power plants and hydropower.

But advocates, including California Gov. Jerry Brown, want solar to play a key role in his state's energy future, in part because generate local installation jobs. Brown hopes to add 12,000 megawatts of rooftop solar generation by 2020.

California utilities are also under pressure to meet the state's aggressive Renewable Portfolio Standard, which calls for 33 percent of electricity to come from renewable sources by 2020. In 2011, San Francisco-based utility PG&E began receiving power from five solar photovoltaic projects built by independent developers, bring 135 megawatts of new capacity online.

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TOP 2011 SOLAR INSTALLATIONS

Top 10 states for photovoltaic solar installations in 2011:

1. California, 542 megawatts installed
2. New Jersey, 313 Mw
3. Arizona 273, Mw
4. New Mexico, 116 Mw
5. Colorado, 91 Mw
6. Pennsylvania, 88 Mw
7. New York, 60 Mw
8. North Carolina, 55 Mw
9. Texas, 47 Mw
10. Nevada, 44 Mw

One megawatt is enough to power about 750 to 1,000 homes. But because the sun doesn't shine all the time, solar industry experts typically say that 1 megawatt of solar power capacity is sufficient to power about 200 households.

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braindead
1 / 5 (2) Mar 19, 2012
"1.855 jiggerwatts! 1.855 jiggerwatts!" Dust off the time flux capacitor let's get back to 2015 Professor.
kochevnik
1 / 5 (2) Mar 19, 2012
All they did is hire Mexican salespeople. Instant doubling of sales.
Eikka
2.7 / 5 (3) Mar 20, 2012
One megawatt is enough to power about 750 to 1,000 homes. But because the sun doesn't shine all the time, solar industry experts typically say that 1 megawatt of solar power capacity is sufficient to power about 200 households.


That depends entirely on where you live. That industry estimate assumes a capacity factor of 0.2 to 0.26 whereas in reality, the capacity factor in places like Germany or France, you'll only see about 0.10 of the nominal power.

It's a simple matter of changing seasons. Between the tropics, you get stable output all through the year, whereas in the higher or lower latitudes you get a sinusoidal swing in the average power output, and the variation grows the further north or south you travel.

This presents a problem for the large scale utilization of solar power, because for the higher latitudes the solar power peak coincides with summertime when energy use is low, and it fades out for the winter when energy use increases.
Eikka
3 / 5 (2) Mar 20, 2012
The you have to account for the fact that rooftop solar power is less than optimal. Again, using Germany as an example, the utility scale solar systems achieve capacity factors in the range of 0.10 to 0.11 but the total country average is only 0.07 because the vast majority of solar systems installed are government subsidized rooftop installations for private homes.

Based on that, it seems that rooftop installations need 45% more capacity to produce the same energy, which has to be factored in when looking at the total impact on the economy. On one hand, generating local jobs stimulates the local economy, but on the other hand the people may be paying the difference in energy prices.
Lord_jag
5 / 5 (3) Mar 20, 2012
As oil prices rise and panel manufacturing costs decrease, solar looks far more attractive.

When it comes time for me to install a new roof I'm going solar. I have the perfect pitch to my roof and half of it faces directly south. I figure I can get about 20kw (unobtainable peak output) up there and get a good 10kw actual out of it throughout most of the day.