The U.S. installed 252 MW of grid-connected photovoltaic (PV) solar projects in the first four months of this year—66% more than the first quarter of 2010, the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA) says in a newly released report. The industry group also says that cumulatively, grid-connected solar electric installations in the U.S. have reached more than 2.85 GW—2.3 GW of which is grid-connected PV.

The report, titled “U.S. Solar Market Insight Q1 2011” says that the total value of U.S. solar market installations grew 67%, from $3.6 billion in 2009 to $6 billion in 2010. At the end of 2010, solar electric installations totaled 956 MW and reached a cumulative installed capacity of 2.6 GW.

The report attributes the rapid growth of PV installations to falling solar energy equipment costs—wafer and cell prices dropped by around 15% each, while module prices fell around 7%. Another reason was that firms were in “a rush to take advantage of the Section 1603 Treasury program that was expected to expire in 2010” (the program was eventually extended through the end of 2011).

Domestic PV module production in Q1 2011 amounted to 348 MW, a 31% increase over the first quarter of 2010. Production from firms that were producing for export dipped because of “soft demand in the key feed-in tariff markets of Germany and Italy,” SEIA says. “The domestic market enjoyed far healthier utilization of manufacturing capacity.”

"With analysts predicting the U.S. to become the world’s largest solar market within the next few years, manufacturers are increasingly looking to the U.S. to site their facilities," said Tom Kimbis, SEIA vice-president of strategy and external affairs. "They are finding significant value in manufacturing close to their expected source of demand.”

No concentrating solar power (CSP) projects came online during Q1 2011, but a total of 1.1 GW of CSP and concentrating photovoltaic (CPV) projects are under construction, SEIA says. “The concentrating solar industry continued its momentum with several projects receiving government loan guarantees during the quarter.”

Sources: POWERnews, SEIA