Solar industry booming in U.S

Solar industry is booming in the United States, with commercial solar customers installing 103 megawatts in the third quarter, a 38 percent boom from the same period in 2009, newly released figures showed.

Along with the booming, prices have been falling, the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA) said in a report. Overall, more than 27,000 homes and businesses set up solar systems in the third quarter, according to the trade group.

The average cost fell to below six dollars a watt for the first time, said the report. By the end of the year, the U.S. industry might surpass one gigawatt of installations, between photovoltaic, concentrating solar power, and solar heating and cooling projects, according to the report.

So far, California is leading the pack, followed by New Jersey, Florida, Arizona and Colorado. Already in the U.S., the average cost of photovoltaics has fallen 30 percent from 10.8 dollars a watt in 1998 to 7.5 dollars a watt in 2009, according to a new report from the Department of Energy’s Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory.

Costs are still falling steeply this year — about one dollar a watt, based on data from 78,000 residential and commercial systems across 16 states.

Researches said the slide was likely caused by a combination of government incentives and declines in the cost of labor, marketing and overhead.

Globally, demand for just photovoltaics grew 196 percent to 10. 6 gigawatts in the first nine months of 2010, according to the SolarBuzz research and consulting firm. In the third quarter, the industry pulled in 17.9 billion dollars, a 74 percent increase.

US Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar and Secretary of Energy Steven Chu yesterday announced the identification of ‘solar energy zones’ on public land in six western states.

The solar energy zones cover about 677,400 acres in Arizona, California, Colorado, Nevada, New Mexico, and Utah that have been deemed environmentally suitable for utility-scale solar energy production.

“This proposal lays out the next phase of President Obama’s strategy for rapid and responsible development of renewable energy,” says Salazar.

The identification of solar energy zones should help renewable energy companies and federal agencies focus development in the most suitable locations, while the Administration’s new ‘Smart from the Start’ planning initiative is designed to speed up the approval process and reduce conflicts and delays.

“Our country has incredible renewable resources, innovative entrepreneurs, a skilled workforce, and manufacturing know-how,” says Energy Secretary Steven Chu. “It’s time to harness these resources and lead in the global clean energy economy.”

Eight major utility-scale solar projects have already been approved on public land in California and Nevada, totalling 3572 MW, through the Department of Energy’s fast track initiative.

A further 104 applications are being considered on a million acres of land that could generate 60 GW of electricity.

The Draft Solar Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement has been compiled over the last two years and is open for comment for the next 90 days.

Meanwhile, the Department of Energy also granted a $400 million loan guarantee to Abound Solar Manufacturing this week to produce state-of-the-art thin-film solar panels.

The company will manufacture cadmium-telluride solar panels at its Longmont, Colorado, and Tipton, Indiana facilities, which will ultimately be able to produce 840 MW of panels a year.

And the Department has also earmarked $50 million for the test and demonstration of cost-competitive solar energy technologies.

The technologies will be tested at the Nevada National Security Site (NNSS), which has been designated as a proving ground for solar technologies.

The Department will open up the funding for applications in the new year, and is particularly interested in proposals in concentrated solar power and concentrated photovoltaic power.