Solar growth continues despite recession


worker-installs-solarGood news if you’re a fan of solar energy: Solar, and, in particular, residential solar, is growing rapidly in the U.S. despite a stagnant economy. Solar also continues to do well in Germany, China, India, and in The Czech Republic, among other places.

state-solar-capacity1Indeed, despite the recession, the U.S. solar energy industry grew — both in new installations and employment. Total U.S. solar electric capacity from photovoltaic (PV) and concentrating solar power (CSP) technologies climbed past 2,000 MW, enough to serve more than 350,000 homes. Total U.S. solar thermal capacity approached 24,000 MW. Solar industry revenues also surged despite the economy, climbing 36 percent in 2009.

This according the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA) report, U.S. Solar Industry: Year in Review 2009.

A doubling in size of the residential PV market and three new CSP plants helped lift the U.S. solar electric market 37 percent in annual installations over 2008 from 351 MW in 2008 to 481 MW in 2009. Solar water heating (SWH) installations managed 10 percent year-over-year growth, while the solar pool heating (SPH) market suffered along with the broader construction industry, dropping 10 percent.

Another sign of continued optimism in solar energy: venture capitalists invested more in solar technologies than any other clean technology in 2009. In total, $1.4 billion in venture capital flowed to solar companies in 2009.

Other U.S. highlights from the report:

  • Overall employment in the solar industry increased by 10,000 people from 2008 to 2009. In total, the solar industry and its supply chain now support roughly 46,000 jobs in the U.S. With growth expected to continue, that number is likely to surpass 60,000 by the end of 2010.
  • Property-assessed clean energy (PACE) financing began spreading across the country in 2009. Since the City of Berkeley became the first to adopt this financing mechanism, 16 states have enacted PACE-enabling legislation: California, Colorado, Illinois, Louisiana, Maryland, Nevada, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon, Texas, Vermont, Virginia and Wisconsin. These provisions will allow homeowners and business-owners to finance solar energy systems through municipal or other government-backed bonds via an assessment on their property taxes. This ensures the availability of credit, reduces the upfront cost and facilitates transfer of the system to new property owners in the event of a sale.
  • Residential installations grew 101 percent from 78 MW in 2008 to 156 MW in 2009.
  • Average installed cost for residential solar systems fell roughly 10 percent from 2008 to 2009.
  • The U.S. now has 432 MW of operational Concentrating Solar Power (CSP) plants in commercial production (as of March 2010), making it the world leader in installed CSP.
  • Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory estimates that compliance with existing solar and distributed generation carve-outs will require roughly 9,000 MW (9,000 MW = enough electricity to power roughly 2 million homes annually) of solar capacity by 2025 in the U.S.

International highlights from the report:

  • 2009-int-solar-numbersGermany continued its steady growth yet again, regaining its title as the largest PV market by installing 3,800 MW of new capacity in 2009. This represents a doubling of the 1,500 MW installed in 2008
  • After rocketing past Germany to become the largest PV market in 2008, a drastic reduction in incentives pushed Spain down to 180 MW in new PV and CSP capacity for 2009, compared to 2,710 MW in 2008. However, Spain added more new CSP capacity than any other country in 2009, leading both the U.S. and China by a wide margin with 120 MW added. Spain ranks second after the U.S. in total CSP capacity with 181 MW installed.
  • Installations in Italy more than doubled from 2008’s 338 MW to roughly 700 MW in 2009, putting it in second place for new capacity for the year. The country’s strong incentives and good solar resources should help the market stay strong in 2010.
  • After two stagnant years, Japan recovered to have its best year ever, installing 484 MW, edging out the U.S. for the third place for annual capacity additions. This resurgence was driven in part by the falling equipment costs and in part by new incentives (roughly US$0.80 per watt) that went into effect in January 2009.
  • The Czech Republic emerged as one of the top markets for PV last year with annual installations jumping to 411 MW. Though the country ranked fifth in installations, it installed more new PV per capita (roughly 40 watts per person) than any country except Germany in 2009.
  • Both China and India made headlines in 2009 when they independently announced plans to expand their solar power capacities to 20,000 MW each by 2020.

For more information on SEIA, go to

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