The Solar Energy Industries Association released its report on 2010 solar markets and installations yesterday, and revealed a rapidly growing sector of the energy market. The United States installed 956 megawatts of all types of solar power in 2010, giving a cumulative installed capacity of 2.6 gigawatts (enough to power about 500,000 homes). Impressive, no doubt, but this still represents less than one percent of the installed electricity capacity in the country
Still, it is the growth in the industry that is most impressive. In 2009, the total value of solar installations was $3.6 billion. In 2010, that number jumped all the way to $6 billion. As reported by Reuters, though, the global share of US photovoltaic installations actually slipped in 2010, to 5 percent of the world's total from 6.5 percent in 2009. Even though the pace is quickening in the US, other countries are pushing solar hard enough to leave the bigger market behind.
And if that's not enough to show how important specific solar-minded policies are, just a glance at the states that are moving fastest on solar power should reinforce the notion. California led the way on solar installations in 2010 and continues to lead in cumulative capacity, but right behind it is little, not-particularly-sunny New Jersey. Those two states, along with Florida, Arizona, Nevada, Colorado and Pennsylvania (also not the most obvious of solar landing spots), accounted for 76 percent of the solar capacity installed in 2010. New Jersey continues to offer some of the best solar subsidies and tax breaks in the country.
It is of course difficult to predict if the same degree of growth can continue in 2011 and beyond, but there have been good signs, including approvals for some of the largest solar installations in the world. If some of those get built on reasonable time scales, the industry goal of powering 2 million homes by 2015 could be easily within reach.
(Graph via SEIA)