Solar power growth jumps to new record

Wed Mar 14, 2012 12:17am EDT
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By Matt Daily

(Reuters) - The national solar industry installed a record number of panels in 2011, more than double 2010, and is likely to see strong growth again this year, according to a new report.

Solar installers built 1,855 megawatts of photovoltaic projects in 2011 for a total of $8.4 billion, up from 887 MW in 2010, according to a report released by GTM Research and the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA).

The growth in U.S. demand comes as the makers of the panels that turn light into electricity have struggled to earn profits amid a glut of supplies on the global market that eroded margins.

The WilderHill Clean Energy Index .ECO, which includes shares of industry heavyweights First Solar (FSLR.O: Quote), Suntech Power Holdings STP.N, Yingli Green Energy (YGE.N: Quote) and Trina Solar TSL.N, tumbled 49 percent in 2011. So far this year it has rebounded about 12 percent.

A record level of fourth quarter installations totaling 776 MW easily beat the peak of 473 MW recorded in the third quarter of the year.

"The U.S. was a strong market in 2011 and we expect it to be strong again in 2012," said GTM Managing Director Shayle Kann.

Many industry analysts had reduced their forecasts last year to between 1,500 to 1,700 megawatts as incentives waned in the country's two biggest markets, California and New Jersey.

For 2012, GTM and SEIA said new construction would grow 35 to 50 percent, reaching 2,500 to 2,800 MW, as a backlog of large projects is completed.   Continued...

Solar panels are seen in the parking lot of 1929 building Walter J Towers, near downtown Los Angeles, California August 26, 2011. REUTERS/Lucy Nicholson