Solar industry reports record third-quarter growth

Solar power is a booming business in the U.S., with more domestic solar installations completed in the third quarter of this year than during all of 2009, according to a report released Wednesday by GTM Research and the Solar Energy Industries Assn.

“The U.S. solar industry is on a roll, with unprecedented growth in 2011,” said Rhone Resch, chief executive of the solar group. “Solar is now an economic force in dozens of states, creating jobs across America.”

The Solar Energy Industries Assn. is the national trade group for the U.S. solar energy industry, and it has 1,100 member companies.


Some 449 megawatts of power were installed in various parts of the U.S. in the third quarter in a variety of projects that ranged in size from small residential systems to large, utility-scale facilities, the report said. One megawatt is the equivalent of 1 million watts of power.

The record third quarter, which represented a 140% increase over the same period a year earlier, also boosted the number of domestic solar installations in 2011 past the 1,000 megawatt mark, surpassing the 887 megawatts completed during all of 2010. The projects contributed to the 100,237 solar-related jobs in the U.S., a figure that has doubled since 2009, the solar association said.

The bulk of those third-quarter installations were in California, which accounted for 44% of the total, or nearly as much as the next six states combined. California has 25,575 solar-related jobs, or more than one-quarter of the national total.

But the report also warned that the U.S. solar industry faces considerable uncertainty in 2012 and beyond because of the coming expiration of the Treasury Department’s 1603 program that subsidizes solar and wind projects. The Solar Energy Industries Assn. said the program had awarded more than 3,600 grants totaling $1.5 billion for more than 22,000 individual solar projects in 47 states as of November of this year.

The solar association also said that the Treasury program supported more than $3.5 billion in private investment. But the program expires at the end of the year, which has many in the industry worried and clamoring for an extension.

“Our industry needs stable policy on which to make business decisions,” Resch said. “To keep the industry growing and creating jobs in the U.S., we need Congress to extend the 1603 program. The 1603 program has done more to expand the use of renewable energy than any other policy in U.S. history.”