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 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.
Lessons 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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