US Solar Market Had Record Growth in 2008 Despite Economy

The last year has been filled with news of plummeting property values, widespread unemployment, and bankruptcies. However, judging from stock values of solar companies over the last year, you would never know that the industry experienced record growth last year for both photovoltaics (PV) and solar water heating according to a report recently released by the Solar Energy Industries Association.
Despite the credit crisis, 2008 will be remembered in the solar industry as a year where federal incentives were enhanced and extended for eight years. This ends the boom and bust cycles that have plagued the industry for decades.

The US now boasts a total 8,775 MW of capacity (comprised of both solar electric and solar thermal technology), with each megawatt of solar electricity being enough to power 150 to 250 homes.
Photovoltaic Growth in 2008
Grid-tied photovoltaic installations led the pack with an 81% increase in capacity during 2008 compared to 2007, with a total of 343 MW total. Of this, 50% was installed in California, due in large part to a robust state-wide incentive.
PV manufacturing in the US grew by 65% last year, decreasing the transportation expense of solar panels manufactured abroad. This also creates domestic manufacturing jobs in the solar industry in addition to the installation and sales jobs from the increased capacity.
solar%20thermal%20installation%20Chicago_small.jpgSolar Thermal Growth in 2008
The solar thermal segment experienced robust growth as well, with a 50% in capacity in 2008 compared to the previous year for solar water heating. A total of 139 MWTh (thermal equivalent) was installed, with Hawaii comprising 37% of the total. The solar pool heating segment slowed by 3%, but still had 762 MWTh installed in 2008.
Solar Industry Employment Opportunities
“Despite severe economic pressures in the United States, demand for solar energy grew tremendously in 2008,” said Rhone Resch, president and CEO of SEIA. “Increasingly, solar energy has proven to be an economic engine for this country, creating thousands of jobs, unleashing billions in investment dollars and building new factories from New Hampshire to Michigan to Oregon.”
Globally, the photovoltaic and wind energy directly and indirectly employed 600,000 people in 2009. The photovoltaic industry possessed 190,000 of those jobs, according to Clean Energy Trends 2009, a report released by Clean Edge.
solar%20thermal%20installation_small.jpgLessons Learned During 2008
Despite growth last year, economic conditions encourage innovation and cost cutting measures. Some utility companies would prefer to own solar power plants instead of relying on power purchase agreements from start-up solar companies. This also sounds attractive to solar companies while it is difficult to obtain financing for projects.
The solar industry is still largely concentrated in several states. California dominates the photovoltaic segment, while Hawaii dominates the solar hot water segment. This is in large part due to state incentives, but many states with rich solar potential remain largely untapped.
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Photo Credit:
Solar Service Inc. of Illinois

Sarah Lozanova is a green copywriter and communications professional specializing in renewable energy and clean technology. She is a consultant for Sustainable Solutions Group and a regular contributor to environmental and energy publications and websites, including Mother Earth Living, Home Power, Earth911, and Green Builder. Her experience includes work with small-scale solar energy installations and utility-scale wind farms. She earned an MBA in sustainable management from the Presidio Graduate School and she resides in Belfast Cohousing & Ecovillage in Midcoast Maine.

6 responses

  1. Thanks for drawing attention to accelerating growth in solar. We’re seeing a real explosion of interest in solar hot water – largely because it can have such a rapid payback. Our orders for PV installations have remained solid as more organizations – particularly state and local governments, schools, colleges and universities, and hospitals – realize they can pay for a solar PV system with money saved on utility bills from energy efficiency upgrades to lighting and HVAC systems in their buildings. Finally, we’re seeing more and more projects for utility scale solar as financiers look towards financially stable organizations and the cost of solar technologies continues to fall. Exciting times for the solar industry and consumers!

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