Solar installations spiked in the second quarter of this year as large solar power plants came online, according to a report released Monday by GTM Research and the Solar Energy Industries Association.
The amount of photovoltaic solar panels installed across the country reached 742 megawatts in the second quarter, up from 512 megawatts in the first quarter. More solar was installed in the second quarter than in all of 2009.
Analysts with GTM Research expect that by year-end, 3,200 megawatts will be installed nationwide.
Photovoltaic, or PV, solar panels convert sunlight directly into electricity. Installation figures include those on homes and businesses as well as much larger, utility-scale power
Much of the growth in the second quarter was fueled by the completion of more than 20 large solar power plant projects in key states like Arizona and California. Utility installations accounted for 477 of the 742 megawatts, while the commercial sector was 196 megawatts and residential was 98 megawatts. California remains the nation's leading market, with 217 megawatts installed in the second quarter, followed by Arizona with 173 megawatts.
Pacific Gas &Electric has a 25-year power purchase agreement to buy electricity from First Solar's 290-megawatt Agua Caliente project under construction in Yuma County, Ariz. FirstSolar announced Monday that 250 megawatts are now connected to the grid, and the full plant should be
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 use a conservative estimate that 1 megawatt of solar power capacity is sufficient to power about 200 households. Companies typically put out their own estimates; First Solar says Agua Caliente will produce enough electricity to power about 100,000 average homes.
"We had a lot of utilty-scale capacity come online. It's going to be the big story of the year," said Shayle Kann, vice president of research at GTM. "The price of solar continues to come down, and utilities are turning more and more to solar."
California utilities are 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. The utilities are well on their way to meeting that goal, and San Francisco-based PG&E has said it expects solar to account for 40 percent of its renewable mix by 2020.
The report also found that in the residential market, third-party ownership models accounted for 70 percent of residential installations. Bay Area companies like SolarCity, SunRun and Sungevity have led the way, offering consumers a way to go solar with no money down via leases or power-purchase agreements.
"In markets where third-party ownership is an option, it quickly becomes the preferred option," Kann said.
San Jose-based SunPower (SPWRA), which makes its own solar panels, has also gotten into the leasing game. On Monday, SunPower announced a new 25-year warranty on its solar panels that guarantees the amount of energy they will produce.
Solar panels slowly degrade over time. SunPower guarantees its products will produce at least 95 percent power for the first five years, followed by a maximum degradation rate of 0.4 percent a year each year thereafter. SunPower's warranty guarantees that its panels will still produce at least 87 percent power at the end of 25 years.
"This is a big deal," SunPower CEO Tom Werner said in an interview. "Not all solar cells are created equal. As the solar industry matures, we'll be focusing less on the cost of panels and more on durability and the reliability of the technology. It's as good as it gets from a warranty perspective."
The U.S. solar market varies widely from state to state, and is heavily influenced by factors like the cost of electricity, the amount of sunlight and incentives for solar from state regulators.
The report was released as Solar Power International, one of the industry's key trade shows, prepared to get under way in Orlando, Fla. President Bill Clinton is scheduled to give the conference's keynote address Wednesday.
Contact Dana Hull at 408-920-2706. Follow her at Twitter.com/danahull.