In 2009 the installed base of solar PV capacity reached 1,642 MW. The USA was the original pioneer of the solar industry, which developed from the NASA space programmes, with the need to invent generating capability of low weight and no fuel. The USA was the first country to develop solar PV seriously and by 1992 had an installed base of 44 MW, which had risen to 275.2 MW in 2002, the third largest in the world, after Japan and Germany. Progress stalled in recent years, in common with the development of wind power, in which the USA was also a pioneer.
As a large country, with many isolated load centres, the USA does not have such a preponderance of grid-connected usage as does Japan. At the end of 2006, 51% of the installed base was grid-connected. Off-grid usage has been spurred on by the national Million Solar Roofs programme, the California $3.50/W buy-down (to keep costs below $3.50/W to the consumer), the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power renewable energy programme and other state subsidies in Illinois, New York and North Carolina.
The US solar industry was hit by the bankruptcy of Astropower, its largest solar company, in 2003. The company’s assets were acquired by GE Energy, which has quickly established a major presence in the wind power sector and is now expanding its position in the solar PV industry . BP Solar has its headquarters in Linthicum, MD, and is one of the biggest PV companies with various factories world-wide. However, BP Solar recently announced its intention to close its American production facilities. Shell Solar subsequently integrated its business with the acquisition of Siemens Solar, a long time market leader in solar cell production. However, Shell announced its intention of concentrating on the thin film market and sold itsthe silicon business to SolarWorld of Germany early in 2006. It has also announced a partnership with St Gobain, the French glass specialist, to manufacture thin film.