Despite a sharp decrease of Chinese solar module shipments that are now subject to U.S. tariffs, solar photovoltaic (PV) prices continued to fall and installations nationwide grew 76% over 2011 to reach a total nameplate capacity of 3,313 MW in 2012 and an estimated market value of $11.5 billion, a new report from industry group Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA) shows.

The latest "U.S. Solar Market Insight," a quarterly publication by SEIA and GTM Research, outlines four trend and events that strongly shaped the nation’s solar market in 2012–which SEIA calls "a historical and busy year for the U.S. solar market."

According to the report, U.S. accounted for 11% of all global PV installations in 2012–its highest market share in at least 15 years–and it is forecast to grow another 30% in 2013, as 4.3 GW of new PV installations come online, SEIA said. This was despite the International Trade Commission’s final determination last November that found imports of crystalline silicon photovoltaic cells and modules from China materially injured the U.S. industry. The commission’s decision cleared the way for the Commerce Department to issue antidumping and countervailing duties on billions of dollars of products from China for the next five years "Although the ultimate impact of this decision is difficult to gauge, Chinese module shipments to the U.S. decreased significantly. PV prices, however, continued to fall. Meanwhile, global trade tensions continue and ongoing investigations in Europe and China could result in new tariffs," SEIA said.

PV manufacturers, meanwhile, saw "little relief" from global oversupply in 2012 as manufacturer margins stayed depressed and several less-competitive facilities were shuttered around the world, it noted.

In a notable trend, residential solar leases and power purchase agreements (PPAs) continued to gain popularity last year. Third-party-owned systems accounted for over 50% of all new residential installations in most major residential markets. Arizona topped that list at 90%. "New vendors entered the space to provide unique twists on the business model or offer ancillary services such as customer lead generation. GTM Research forecasts that the third-party-owned residential solar market will maintain its momentum and become a $5.7 billion market by 2016," SEIA said.

Mega-scale solar also saw gains as the first wave of utility-scale solar came online in 2012. Among plants that were commissioned this year is Cogentrix’s 30-MW concentrative PV Alamosa Solar project. "This trend should continue in 2013, with more than 4,000 MW of utility solar projects currently under construction and more than 8,000 MW of projects with PPAs in place and yet to begin construction," SEIA said. This year, for example, all phases of BrightSource’s 392-MW Ivanpah project and Abengoa’s 280-GW Solana Generating Station are expected to come online.

Looking forward, SEIA’s report projects "moderate market growth" of 28% between 2013-2016 (compared to 82% for 2009-2012). The coming years will also see a "new rise of distributed generation." "Whereas the past few years could be described as the rise of utility PV, we anticipate a resurgence in distributed generation in the coming years," SEIA explained.

The year 2016 is expected to be a particularly stellar year for solar installations. "Assuming the [investment tax credit (ITC)] is not extended past its current expiration date of December 31, 2016, the final year of the ITC will be a banner year for the U.S. solar market as developers rush to complete projects."

Sources: POWERnews, SEIA