US solar industry reports strong growth in 2009 despite recession

The Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA) has released its 2009 US Solar Industry Year in Review, finding 2009 to be another year of strong growth despite the economic recession. A combination of policies, new business models, and declining prices drove expansion in 2009; and growth is expected to continue during 2010.

Overall US solar electric capacity, including both photovoltaic and concentrating solar power installations, increased by 37% in 2009. According to the SEIA, this was driven primarily by strong demand in the residential and utility-scale markets, state and federal policy advances and declining technology prices. As a result, total solar industry revenue reached $4 billion, a 36% increase on that reported in 2008.

According to the SEIA’s findings, the solar industry contributed to the overall economy by adding 17,000 new jobs from coast to coast. The solar industry today employs 46,000 US workers and supports an additional 33,000 jobs in other sectors.

“Despite the Great Recession of 2009, the US solar industry had a winning year and posted strong growth numbers,” said Rhone Resch, SEIA president and CEO. “When the President looks back at how stimulus dollars were invested, he’s going to see that solar was one of the best returns on investments in 2009 for the American taxpayers. In addition to strong policies at the state and federal level, solar’s growth was driven by the emergence of new business models and declining prices. Consumers took notice that now is the best time to go solar.”

“SolarCity grew aggressively in 2009 based on increasing demand for its full-service solar offering, including financing options that can allow businesses and homeowners to pay less for solar power than they previously paid for electricity. The company has added close to 300 new workers in the last 12 months and has now completed or undertaken more than 7,000 solar projects,” said Jonathan Bass, spokesperson for SolarCity based in Foster City, Calif.

Demand growing at a tremendous rate

“Demand for solar power is growing at a tremendous rate,” said Ron Kenedi, Vice President of the Solar Energy Solutions Group of Sharp and member of SEIA’s Board of Directors. Sharp’s US headquarters is in Huntington Beach, Calif. “Our residential, governmental, commercial and utility customers want clean and reliable power. We have responded to this demand, and in doing so, have created a wealth of high tech jobs here in the US Additionally, for every new job in our factory, many more are being created in the field – in areas such as design, sales and construction – where the systems are being installed.”

“Building off the successes of 2009, we expect 2010 to be a breakout year for the US solar industry,” added Resch. “The right policies and industry innovation continue to drive solar’s growth across America. Now we’re talking gigawatts of solar, not megawatts.”

According to SEIA’s report, photovoltaic installations (grid-connected) grew by 38% and solar water heating rose by 10%, although solar pool heating growth was 10% less than in 2008, reflecting the decline in construction and housing markets.

The concentrating solar power (CSP) sector had three new plants come online in 2009, taking cumulative CSP capacity in the US to 432 MW, with a development pipeline totalling more than 10,000 MW.

Capacity by market segment

Residential grid-tied PV solar installations showed particularly strong growth, doubling from 78 MW to 156 MW, while non-residential grid-tied PV solar installations grew 2% less than in 2008. The utility market saw notable growth, with utilities tripling their rate of grid-tied PV capacity additions from 22 MW to 66 MW. The total utility-scale pipeline (across all solar technologies) reached 17 GW, enough to power 3.4 million homes.

46,000 jobs in the sector

The SEIA found that the solar industry contributed to the overall economy by adding 17,000 new jobs, whereby the solar industry now supports 46,000 US jobs and an additional 33,000 jobs in other sectors.

Growth in the industry resulted in a 36% increase in overall revenue, totalling nearly $4 billion. Solar manufacturing continued to grow, with a 7% increase in PV module production from 2008 to 2009.

Capacity by state

California (220 MW) continued to lead the US in new solar electric capacity in 2009, followed by New Jersey (57 MW), Florida (36 MW), Arizona (23 MW), Colorado (23 MW), Hawaii (14 MW), New York (12 MW), Massachusetts (10 MW), Connecticut (9 MW), and North Carolina (8 MW). Hawaii installed the most solar electric capacity per capita in 2009 (10.4 W per capita). Nevada has the most cumulative solar electric capacity per capita (38 W per capita). There are 58 new solar manufacturing facilities being built in 20 states, including Michigan, Ohio and Pennsylvania.

Internationally, the US (481 MW) ranked fourth in new solar electric capacity in 2009, behind Germany (3,000 MW), Italy (700 MW), and Japan (484 MW). The US (2,108 MW) also ranked in fourth place in cumulative solar electric capacity behind Germany (8,877 MW), Spain (3,595 MW), and Japan (2,628 MW). The US ranked in tenth place in new solar electric capacity per capita (1.6 W per capita) and ninth place in cumulative solar electric capacity per capita (6.9 W per capita).

To view the 2009 US Solar Industry Year in Review full report, click here:

2009 US Solar Industry Year in Review


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