Historical Overview of the Solar Industry in the United States of America

From time to time we take you back to one of our past reports to present the state of an industry as it was viewed when it was written. This time, we look at the solar industry.

As the original pioneer of the solar industry, the USA was the first country to develop solar PV seriously, and by 1990 had an installed base of 10 MW, which has risen to 624 MW of installed capacity by the end of 2006. The rate of growth has slowed down until 2006 when it started to pick up, in common with the development of wind power, in which the USA was also a pioneer. Both technologies have suffered from stop-go government support policies. However, the recent announcements of federal support for renewables have given a boost to the US market and the industry roadmap is promoting the idea of the US regaining its global lead. By 2006 the CAGR of the solar PV market in the US had increased to 30%.

As a large country, with many isolated load centres, the USA does not have such a preponderance of grid-connected usage as does Japan. 49% of the installed base is off-grid and this was spurred on by the national Million Solar Roofs Programme, the California $3,50/W buy-down, the $3,00/W effective buy-down (to allow < $3,50/W costs 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.
Roof-mounted systems use all types of PV modules and are sometimes connected to a multiple mode inverter that permits the PV system to first serve the building’s load and then to send excess power to the utility grid with net metering. When the grid power is not available, the inverter may be designed to switch to standby and power the local load from energy stored in a battery bank.

Telecommunication applications ranged from remote repeaters and amplifiers for all modes of communication including fibre optics, satellite links, and cable links to small data link stations via phone, TV, and secure communications throughout the country. Remote photovoltaic power systems serve as sensor power sources and data communication power for a broad range of applications, including weather, storm warning, seismic / radiation monitors, pollution monitors, security phones on highways and parking lots, and traffic monitors. Remote lighting and signals are proliferating, with applications ranging from bus stops, remote shelters, parking lot lights, billboards, highway information / construction signs (replacing small engine generators), intercoastal navigation aides and lighting for ‘green’ corporate headquarters.