Even outsiders know that the solar energy industry has experienced huge growth during the past few years. This is particularly true of 2009, where solar energy prospered in spite of a worldwide recession. In the U.S., this prosperity is largely due to the 2009 American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.
This Act, also called ARRA, the Stimulus or the Recovery Act, provides a 30-percent tax incentive for residential renewable energy installations (through this year). It also provides the same level of incentive for building owner/manager solar initiatives, and delivers the funding either as a tax rebate or an actual cash grant, depending on the owner’s “tax appetite.”
The Solar Energy Industries Association, or SEIA, in April also reported strong growth in spite of the recession, noting that solar capacity – in both the PV and concentrating solar power (CSP) venues – increased by 37 percent. This, according to an Ernst and Young report, because venture capitalists invested $1.5 billion, or 63.8 percent more, in solar energy during the second half of 2010.
Where Does the U.S. Stand Globally?
At the end of 2009, the U.S. stood at fourth place globally in terms of solar capacity installed. With 2.09 gigawatts (GW), it ranked only behind Germany (9.79 GW); Spain (4.01GW); and Japan (2.68GW).
With more than 23 GW of solar capacity currently on the drawing board in the U.S., and approvals recently acquired for 1,250 megawatts (MW) of that capacity – (Beacon, 250 MW; Abengoa, 250 MW; Blythe, 1,000 MW) – the U.S. could easily surpass Germany within the space of two or three years.
And a Marketbuzz 2010 report from Solarbuzz, targeting just the photovoltaic portion of the solar energy industry, saw total global PV installations at 7.3 GW, or 20 percent more than 2008.
The Big Players in Solar
So who are the biggest players in this solar renaissance? According to Fortune Magazine, one is Tempe, Arizona-based First Solar, which ranks seventh on the list of 2010’s fastest-growing U.S. firms. After that, one has to drop down to No. 69 to find another solar firm experiencing similar growth, namely Trina Solar. This is, experts say, because the period of growth is now being redefined by a period of intense consolidation.
Other big players in the news include Hawaii-based Rising Sun Solar, which made Inc. Magazine’s Top 500 for 2010. And for the faces attached to this growth, look no further than Greentech Media’s March 2010 Solar Summit, which saw such influential solar players as Andrew Beebe (VP, Suntech), Felicia Bellows (VP, Tessera NA), Dr. Terry Bailey (President, Soliant), and Daniel S. Alcombright, (regional VP and GM, Solon NA).
Various events during the year have also highlighted some key players. One was EXPO Solar 2010, held in January, which saw global electronics giants Samsung Electronics and LG Electronics exhibiting their solar cells and announcing mass production in 2010.
Presenting during the same expo was Hyundai Heavy Industries, which dropped the solar glove, so to speak, by challenging other suppliers to meet its benchmark of $1 billion in sales and the role of a key global solar energy player by 2014.
Beyond that, the big players – like the big companies – are still emerging, as solar energy prepares to overtake fossil fuels with grid parity, or the point at which solar energy becomes as cheap as coal or oil in terms of electricity costs.