A Look Back at the U.S. Solar Market in 2012

27 March 2013 Renewable Energy Outlook Blog

The Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA)® and GTM Research have released a report on 2012 developments in the U.S. Solar Market. The report contains a significant amount of interesting data regarding last year’s solar market, as well as some perceived trends and forecasts for coming years. Some of the items that I found most interesting include the following:

  • Installed prices for PV systems across all market segments (residential, non-residential and utility) decreased 27% in 2012.
  • Total U.S. PV installations across all market segments exceeded 300,000 at the end of the year.
  • 8 of the 10 largest PV projects currently operating in the U.S. were completed in 2012.
  • 11% of all global PV systems installed in 2012 were located in the U.S., representing the highest global market share for the U.S. in at least 15 years.
  • Approximately 3,313 MW of PV systems were installed in the U.S. in 2012, almost 40% of which came online in Q4 2012 - Q42012 was easily the quarter with the highest installed capacity in U.S. history.
  • Only 30MW of concentrating solar power projects came online in 2012. However, several large CSP projects (including BrightSource’s Ivanpah project and Abengoa’s Solana Generating Station project) are expected to come online in 2013.
  • The U.S. utility PV market more than doubled in 2012 over 2011, with 1,782 MW of PV systems installed over 152 projects.

Interesting trends and forecasts noted in the report include the following:

  • Project financing is expected to diversify significantly in 2013, with a variety of new or relatively new financing structures expected to experience substantial activity. Such financing structures include solar REITs, crowdfunded solar projects, solar inclusion in master limited partnerships, and securitized solar assets. Securitization was the subject of a full-day workshop at the recently completed Infocast Solar Power Finance & Investment Summit 2013 in Rancho Bernardo, California, which I attended along with several colleagues from Foley’s Energy Industry Team – Foley partners Jeff Atkin and Bob Heinrich led a fascinating presentation regarding securitization of rooftop solar projects.
  • An anticipated resurgence in distributed generation in the next few years. This is a sentiment I have heard expressed by a large number of market participants.
  • The report forecasts a 28% compound annual growth rate for the U.S. solar market for the 2013-2016 period, down from 82% for the 2009-2012 period. While such a decrease in the growth rate, if realized, would represent a substantial decline compared to the past few years, as noted in the report, such a lower growth rate would seem to be far more sustainable over the longer term.
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