Demand for solar PV energy in the U.S. continues to gain
considerable traction. During 2011, installed PV capacity reached the 2
GW level, with 880 MW allocated to the commercial sector and 760 MW to
the utility segment.
However, this growth has not been realized
without certain challenges. Indeed, often years of negotiation take
place prior to any project's completion. Issues typically focus on where
and how to host the array, what size it should be, what products to
use, who will purchase the electricity generated and how the entire
project should be funded.
Over the next few years, utility-scale
PV installations in the U.S. are set to grow substantially. In fact,
over 24 GW of these projects are currently in the planning stages. Some
have already assigned system developers and issued contracts, while
others are currently in the “at-risk” category, as they are still
awaiting power purchase agreements or project financing.
likely that federal and state policies will ultimately dictate which
locations are targeted most by PV developers. Although every state in
the U.S. now boasts some level of commercial or utility PV capacity,
California and New Jersey continue to dominate PV projects installed in
In recent years, California’s contribution to planned or
installed PV projects reached 80% of national demand. However, when all
PV projects in the pipeline over the period from 2010 to 2015 are
considered, California’s share may decline to below 30%.
interesting trend is that nearly 30% of all planned or installed PV
projects in the U.S. now fall into the 1 MW to 5 MW category. In North
Carolina, the PV landscape has been changing recently from PV
installations at the 1 MW level to include several larger planned
projects at the 5 MW level.
However, the U.S.’ increase in
megawatt-scale PV deployment does not always command widespread support.
In fact, several planned installations have recently been met with
opposition from the general public, local councils or environmental
Often, the use of land with a historical or cultural
significance - or land fit for agriculture or other use - can provoke
conflict and even legal challenges. This often forces the different
parties into reaching a workable compromise, but can, under certain
circumstances, result in the full withdrawal of the planned PV project.
market segmentation remains highly diverse across the U.S. - unlike in
some European countries, which are starting to impose restrictions on
large megawatt-scale installations in favor of roof-mounted PV.
the U.S, there remain many viable options for where to host PV arrays.
Although ground-mounted PV installations hold most of the capacity in
the U.S, rooftop installations still account for almost half of the
planned or installed U.S. PV projects.
Large retailers are making
significant commitments to install PV on their warehouses, stores and
distribution centers. This style of installation often uses
otherwise-wasted space and has the upside potential of bringing new
employment opportunities to local installers.
In fact, despite
the large investment levels typically involved, these types of retailers
are often more likely to obtain bank financing for a PV installation
project than small business owners. Small businesses, school districts
and municipalities tend to welcome third-party ownership of their PV
array through roof or land leases. These can provide benefits to the
array host without the initial financial outlay.
Finally, in areas where suitable locations for PV projects may be more difficult to find, new options are appearing.
such example involves floating PV arrays, which are suspended on a body
of water. This style of installation is particularly attractive in
regions where land space is highly valued as a commodity, such as on
Another example is portable arrays that begin their
life as ground-mounted but are later relocated onto a rooftop or moved
to another site altogether. Building-integrated options are also being
increasingly considered, as are capped landfills.
some PV carport installations are over 1 MW in size and constructed on
parking garages, while others are used in parking lots, car dealerships,
schools and walkways to protect vehicles and people from the elements.
They can also include charging facilities for electric cars
Beadle is an analyst at market research firm NPD Solarbuzz. She leads
research efforts for the United States Deal Tracker and contributes to a
comprehensive database resource for all PV projects throughout the U.S.
Beadle can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Photo credit: Conergy