U.S. Solar Power Market Could Reach 1-GW in 2010

The U.S. solar electric market, including both photovoltaic (PV) and concentrating solar power (CSP) installations, could surpass one gigawatt of installed capacity in a year for the first time, according to the inaugural U.S. Solar Market Insight.

The report, released by the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA) and GTM Research, forecasts that 944 megawatts of solar electric capacity (comprised of 866 MW of PV and 79 MW of CSP) will be installed in the U.S. in 2010. This represents a growth of 114 percent over the 441 megawatts of solar electric capacity added in 2009, according to researchers.

“First half solar installations grew beyond expectations as a result of declining prices, continued government support and improving financial conditions,” said Shayle Kann, Managing Director, Solar at GTM Research, in a statement. “In spite of continued macroeconomic woes, the U.S. solar industry is on track to have a record year in 2010 for both installations and manufacturing.”

The report’s high forecast projects as much as 1.13 gigawatts being installed by year’s end, a 156 percent increase over 2009. The report projects a stronger second half for 2010 thanks to one large CSP project, several large PV projects and continued strength in the residential and non-residential markets.

California led states for solar electric capacity installed in the first six months of 2010 with 12 megawatts, followed by New Jersey, Arizona and Florida. In total, 341 megawatts were installed in the first half of the year, say researchers.

The report also finds that the solar heating and cooling market grew. The solar water heating (SWH) segment is expected to achieve its sixth consecutive year of growth in 2010, growing 16 percent with approximately 3 million square feet (mmsf) of installed solar thermal collectors by year-end compared to about 2.6 mmsf in 2009.

Hawaii installed the most square feet of solar water heaters, followed by Puerto Rico and California. The solar pool heating segment is expected to grow by 7 percent in 2010, installing approximately 11.5 million square feet.


Domestic concentrating solar power (CSP) experienced a burst of projects in California in the 1980s, and then went quiet for two decades.

In the last several years, Spain’s feedin-tariff has allowed it to take the reins as the CSP leader with over 400 MW operating today. But the U.S. is poised to regain leadership with a CSP project pipeline of 46 projects for a combined 10 GW under development in the southwest.

In the first half of 2010 two CSP projects came online in the U.S. In Q1, the 1.5 MW Tessera/Stirling Maricopa Dish-Engine project was completed in Arizona. In Q2, the 1 MW Abengoa Solar Cameo Hybrid plant (also known as the Colorado Integrated Solar Project) came online in Colorado.

The CSP industry in the U.S. was essentially dormant from 1992 to 2006. Since 2006, there has been one project of scale – a 64 MW trough plant in Nevada in 2007. The last three years has seen small demonstration plants for various technologies: a 5 MW CLFR plant in California in 2008, a 5 MW tower plant in California in 2009, and a 1 MW micro-CSP plant in Hawaii in 2009.


The installed prices per watt for the two projects completed in 2010 are not particularly useful. The Maricopa plant was a demonstration facility, and its costs were not indicative of the cost per watt that a 100+ MW facility would be able to achieve.

The expected cost for a dish-engine project at utility scale is in the range of $3.00/Wac-$4.50/Wac. In the case of the Cameo project, the costs per watt are understated relative to standalone trough projects as the Cameo solar field acts as a booster to an existing power plant and therefore didn’t require the construction of a power block. A typical cost for a trough plant with wet cooling and no storage would be in the range of $4.50/Wac-$6.00/Wac.