By Chris Hart, Manager of Engineering & Analytics
Despite concerns about the state of the economy and trouble in the solar manufacturing sector, 2012 was a banner year for the solar energy industry. Looking forward, this momentum seems to be carrying over into 2013, likely propelling solar to its best year yet.
Official figures have yet to be released for Q4 of 2012, but the numbers revealed by SEIA in their Q3 US Solar Market Insight Report indicate a robust U.S. solar market. Through the first three quarters of 2012, the US had installed 1,992 MW of solar – already surpassing the total from 2011. The third quarter alone saw 684 MW of PV installed, which is the third largest single quarter on record and nearly 1,300 MW of solar were expected to be deployed in the fourth quarter. If the figures bear out to be even near these forecasts, the U.S. will have seen over 3,000 MW of solar installed in 2012.
Although the outlook for solar in 2013 is looking robust, there are still several potential growing pains looming in the year. The tariff against Chinese solar manufacturers will begin to take affect (although SEIA projects this tariff to have little impact on systems costs). Further shakeout in the manufacturers as well as service providers in the space may provide for some firmness in overall pricing as markets approach equilibrium.
Despite these concerns, the US solar industry is poised to continue its successful deployments in 2013. System costs have been falling rapidly, and though the rate of decline may slow, this trend is expected to continue. In late 2012, Alta Energy’s network of integrator partners began seeing deals for large systems creep below the $2/W mark for the first time. With the margins in the panel market already being squeezed tightly by the oversupply of 2011 and 2012, additional cost reductions that solar customers may see in 2013 will likely be primarily driven by efficiency gains in Balance of Systems and other soft costs. Specifically, costs like installation, administration and permitting fees could provide further room for cuts.
Looking forward, when combined with prospects of economic growth, general continuing decline in costs and new innovations in financing and other soft cost segments, 2013 should be another banner year for U.S. solar deployments. Alta Energy stands poised to help commercial property owners assess and execute efficient and profitable solar strategies in this environment of robust growth.