U.S. solar industry had a bright 2010

Story by: San Jose Mercury News

A recent report by the Solar Energy Industries Association found that 2010 was a banner year for solar in the United States. The total size of the U.S. solar market – which includes rooftop installations, hot water heating and utility scale projects – grew from $3.6 billion in 2009 to $6 billion, a 67 percent increase.

“Solar is growing quickly across the U.S. at the residential, commercial, and utility scale levels. It is powering and heating buildings in all 50 states, and using a variety of technologies to do so,” states the executive summary of the report, which is scheduled to be released Thursday. “The rapid growth and unique diversity has made the U.S. market a focus of global industry attention for the first time in many years.”

California, with its abundant sunshine and leadership on renewable energy policies, remains the nation’s leading solar state. But other states, including New Jersey, Nevada and Arizona, are quickly becoming key markets. California installed 259 megawatts of solar power in 2010, far more than any other state, while New Jersey installed 137 megawatts. One megawatt of solar energy is enough to power roughly 200 California homes.

Photovoltaic installations, which represent the vast majority of the solar market, grew 102 percent in 2010 to reach 878 MW, up from 435 MW in 2009.

The report is the work of the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA) and GTM Research and is based on surveys of installers, manufacturers, utilities and state agencies.

The solar panels seen on most homes and office buildings are photovoltaic panels that convert the sun’s rays directly into electricity. Concentrating solar power, known as solar thermal or CSP, uses different technology: It concentrates the sun’s rays with mirrors or lenses to boil water, and the steam from the boiling water turns turbines that generate electricity.