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U.S. solar installations skyrocket last quarter topping Germany

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According to most accounts, solar energy was invented in the United States and arguably in Colorado. Nonetheless, the U. S. has trailed the rest of the world for years in the utilization of solar energy. Countries like Germany have left the United States in the dust.

A new report released Tuesday by the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA) found that the third quarter of 2013 was the largest quarter ever for residential solar installations in the U.S. and the second largest quarter in the history of the U.S. solar market. The U.S. installed 930 megawatts (MW) of photovoltaics (PV) in the third quarter 2013, up 20 percent over the second quarter and 35 percent over the third quarter last year.

What is more important in the finding is that 2013 is likely to be the first time in more than 15 years that the U.S. will install more solar capacity than world leader Germany, according to GTM Research, the firm that did the study with SEIA. There is now 10,250 megawatts of solar capacity in the U.S. which is enough to power 1.7 million average sized American homes.

According to the report the utility-scale solar sector represented more than half of new PV capacity installed. However, the residential market showed significant growth installing 186MW that segment’s largest quarter in history. GTM estimates that a total of 4.3 gigawatts of new PV will be installed in 2013, a 27% increase over 2012.

The residential sector is still a small proportion of the overall solar market but has the strongest growth. One reason for the surge in residential solar could be cost. The blended average PV system prices fell 4.2% in the third quarter of 2013 compared to the previous quarter, reaching a new low of $3.00/W. That is 9.7% lower than a year ago.

The Department of Defense has been installing solar on housing at military bases around the nation including large projects in California and Colorado’s Ft. Carson.

California continues to lead the nation with the most installations, benefiting from a 10-year $2.167 billion program of incentives begun by former Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger in 2006. Arizona is in second place and North Carolina moved into the third spot. In 2007, North Carolina became the first state in the southeast to adopt a renewable energy standard (RES), requiring utilities to get 12.5 percent of their energy from renewables.

The Colorado legislature passed a bill to extend that state’s RES to rural utilities. The bill was strongly opposed by those utilities, gas and oil companies, and rural agricultural groups. This is expected to boost solar installations in Colorado. The city of Boulder, Colorado is considering establishing it own electrical utility in order to increase the amount of renewable energy used in the city.

Businesses who are considering solar energy got some good news last week. Solar installer SolarCity announced a new program to use Tesla batteries to store excess energy for use when the sun is not shinning. However, they have coupled the storage with software that manages the use of energy to use it during periods of peak demand when the price charged by utilities is highest.

This program solves one of the biggest problems businesses face from solar programs--: storing energy for use at peak times rather than selling it at a low price to the utility. Many large corporations like Walmart, Walgreens, and others have been aggressively adding solar to the roofs of their stores.

This news about a solar surge is welcomed. Solar energy took a beating when Republicans in Congress cut government incentives to the industry. Clearly, the renewable energy standards in the states are a major reason. What is required is a federal RES. We can dream.

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