Solar photovoltaic (PV) installations in the United States for 2013 will surpass 4 GW for the first time, spurred by continually falling prices and surging popularity of residential rooftop solar, according to a report from the Solar Energy Industry Association (SEIA) released this week. Notably, the U.S. is projected to beat Germany in solar PV installations for the first time in 15 years. 

The U.S. installed 930 MW of solar PV in the third quarter of this year, a 35% increase over Q3 2012. While utility-scale solar PV represents the majority of added capacity, with 52 projects totaling 539 MW added in Q3, residential rooftop solar is also growing dramatically. The SEIA estimates that total residential installations will have grown 52% in 2013 alone. The added residential capacity has come primarily in sunny states like California, Arizona, and Hawaii, as well as those with strong policy incentives like North Carolina, Massachusetts, and New Jersey. California continues to dominate installed solar PV capacity by a wide margin.

While total non-residential solar PV has not seen similar growth this year, wholesale distributed generation, defined as utility-side projects under 20 MW, has seen strong growth, much of it driven by 1 MW to 5 MW projects in North Carolina.

Solar PV costs continue to decline across the country, with average prices having fallen more than 16% from $3.59/W in Q3 2012 to $3.00/W this year. Most of this drop was in utility scale projects, which saw prices fall from $2.40/W to $2.04/W.

While the total U.S. installed solar PV capacity of about 10 GW remains well below Germany’s world-leading 35 GW, the SEIA is predicting that the 4,268 MW of capacity added in 2013 will edge out Germany’s 2013 total of around 4,200 MW. Capacity additions in Germany have fallen substantially this year (from about 7.6 GW in 2012), partly as a result of uncertainty about future policy support.

Though focused on solar PV, the report noted that concentrating solar power is also seeing significant growth, with several major projects such as Ivanpah coming online in late 2013 and early 2014.

 —Thomas W. Overton, JD, gas technology editor (@thomas_overton, @POWERmagazine)