The 2009 solar round-up from the (American) Solar Energy Industries Association reports that additions to U.S. capacity (both photovoltaic and thermal) came to 481 MW, up 37 percent from 2008, bringing cumulative capacity to nearly 24 GW. Even so, the United States trailed world leader Germany by a large margin, as well as other siginificantly smaller countries. Germany's 2009 installations totaled 3,800 MW, Italy's 700 MW, and Japan's 484 MW. The tiny Czech Republic installed 411 MW of solar, putting it in fifth place, just behind the United States.
The United States remains world leader in concentrated solar power, however, with 432 MW installed.
Perhaps the most significant development in 2009, as reported by SEIA, was a sharp drop on PV module prices, from $3.50-4.00 per watt in mid-2008 to $1.85-2.25 last year. Considering that modules generally amount to about half the total PV system cost, that would seem to imply that photovoltaic installation costs are now about half what they were in the early part of this decade--big news indeed, if it holds.
SEIA credits much of the 2009 U.S. growth to the U.S. stimulus bill, which eliminated a ceiling on residential thermal reimbursements and replaced tax credits with grants. "Solar equipment manufacturers have been awarded $600 million in manufacturing tax credits under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act [of 2009], representing investments in new and upgraded factories of more than $2 billion."
State and local incentives also improved. Of the 30 states with renewable energy standards, 18 now have solar "carve-outs"--specific targets for solar, within overall renewable targets--and 5 provide extra credits for solar or distributed generation. So-called property-assessment clean energy financing (PACE) has become increasingly popular among municipalities, Berkeley, California having taken the lead.
Some sore solar points unmentioned in the SEIA report:
--the decision by the leading maker of PV manufacturing equipment to site a major research lab not in the United States but in Xian, China
--the closing of a little factory in Maryland whose acquisition probably inspired BP to declare it was moving beyond petroleum
As we all are all too vividly aware, BP not only has failed to move beyond oil, it's mired in it, along with growing portions of the Gulf Coast.