Saturday, February 25, 2012

Solar Energy Week in Review: Solar Gaining Steam for 2012

Yes, it’s still cold. It’s just February, but already the U.S. solar industry is picking up steam that will carry it through 2012 and beyond.

Last week saw a number of events showing that last year’s growth in the U.S. solar market is carrying on this year, despite changes in incentives that could hamper its growth.

During the Solar Power Generation USA conference in Las Vegas, Shayle Kann, GTM Research managing director of solar, said that the U.S. solar market is poised for growth in 2012, which should make it one of the top two leading world markets for solar in the next two years.

Some growth will be driven by utility-scale solar deployments, like National Solar Power’s 3rd giant PV project in Florida, which will consist of up to 100 megawatts of solar plots throughout Liberty County.

And the Department of Interior’s proposed Solar Energy Zones in the Southwestern U.S., which is designed to speed development of solar on federal lands, is moving forward, with support both from the industry and environmental advocates.

There’s also a lot of growth in solar that’s being driven by homeowners going solar in markets like California. For instance, a new report by SunRun and PV Solar Report found that residential solar growth in 2011 across California was driven by middle-class homeowners, not the richest. The study found that as more people learn about third-party purchasing options, more are choosing to go solar.

That trend is likely to continue as residential solar may reach grid parity in California as early as 2015. That’s according to Environment California’s Research & Policy Center, which surmised that the falling price of solar and soft-cost reductions is likely to mean installed residential solar could reach $5.25 per installed watt by 2015. With continued net-metering, that level would be at grid parity in the state.

Elsewhere an agreement between PowerOptions and SunEdison in Massachusetts just made it easier for nonprofits and municipalities to get access to low-cost solar. The two are offering net-metering and power-purchase agreements that can allow such organizations access to solar with no upfront costs.

As President Obama mentioned in the State of the Union, the Department of Defense is going renewable in a big way in coming years. To help it make the transition, Advanced Energy Economy (AEE) and American Council on Renewable Energy (ACORE) are holding a series of forums with DOD officials to connect them with solar industry people and address concerns.

Solar also continues to offer innovative solutions. Last week Tucson Electric Power said it would increase the output of a power plant with solar. The 156-megawatt H. Wilson Sundt Generating Station can be fired by coal or natural gas and already gets some methane from a nearby landfill. But the power plant will get an up-to 5-megawatt boost from the Sundt Solar Boost Project. It uses AREVA Solar 's Compact Linear Fresnel Reflector system to superheat water into steam, boosting the plant’s generating capacity.

On the world stage, Europe also is forging ahead. A stronger than expected finish last year meant that overall, the solar industry surged by 23 percent in 2011 over 2010. That growth is extending in early 2012, according to a new NDP SolarBuzz report.


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