By Cecilia Aguillon
Sometimes the biggest stories go unreported. Of all the news that didn’t make headlines this year, the dramatic increase in U.S. solar installations ranks near the top of the list. While we were reading about weak demand for manufactured goods and a slow economy throughout 2012, Americans installed over 3 gigawatts of solar photovoltaic (PV) systems — an unprecedented level, up 71 percent year-over-year. Can you name another industry that grew this much?
Actually, America’s forecasted 3.2GW in 2012 is up from 1.9GW in 2011, and less than one gigawatt in 2010. Global PV demand is now shifting away from Europe, where new installations fell by about 3GW in 2012. And beyond the U.S., the addition of a feed-in tariff in 2012 has made Japan perhaps the world’s fastest-growing market for solar energy.
The U.S. industry grew despite questions about economic recovery, limited financing opportunities, polarizing viewpoints about renewable energy, an abundance of “cheap” natural gas, and a presidential campaign that made energy independence a political hot potato. One or two high-profile failures brought skepticism on an energy resource that, by all accounts, is one of the most promising ever discovered. The reality is that 2012 was the biggest year ever for U.S. solar installations.
American homeowners, businesses and utility companies drove investments in solar energy. California, Arizona, and Colorado accelerated the uptake of solar energy systems to the point of decreasing their incentive programs significantly. The lack of low-interest financing from conventional banks allowed third-party financing to sweep across states with leasing and “power purchase agreement” programs that encourage homeowners to install solar equipment without putting money down.
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Photo courtesy of APS-ES