U.S. Will Top Germany In Solar Installation For The First Time In 15 Years

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Over 23,600 new solar-related jobs were added in 2013.

The third quarter of 2013 was another big one for the U.S. solar industry. 930 megawatts of solar photovoltaics (PV) were installed across the country — the second largest quarter in the industry’s history — and it was the largest quarter ever for residential PV installations.

As the solar industry continues its remarkable growth, “2013 is likely to be the first time in more than 15 years that the U.S. installs more solar capacity than world leader Germany,” according to GTM Research and the Solar Energy Industries Association.

By the end of the year, more than 400,000 solar projects will be operating across the U.S. and installations will have grown 27 percent over 2012, with a 52 percent growth rate in the residential sector alone, according to GTM’s forecast.

The rapid growth of the residential solar sector in particular is directly attributed to solar-friendly policies in key states, such as California, Hawaii, and Arizona, but the report notes that “challenges to net energy metering regulations present a looming threat to the market.” Net metering refers to the amount customers are compensated for excess energy produced by solar panels on their homes and businesses and is a key incentive for the industry. Several states are currently debating net metering policies as utilities become increasingly concerned about the threat it poses to their business model.

After completely failing in its attempt to roll back state renewable energy laws last year, the American Legislative Exchange Council, a secretive group backed by corporations, fossil fuel interests and the ultra-conservative Koch brothers, is planning to target net metering policies in its latest assault on clean energy. Characterizing homeowners with their own solar panels as “freeriders on the system,” John Eick of ALEC’s energy, environment, and agriculture program told the Guardian net metering “is an issue we are going to be exploring.”

In November, Arizona deferred its heated battle over net metering by charging solar customers a small fee — roughly $5 a month, instead of the $40 or $50 the utility wanted. In the weeks leading up to the decision, the state’s energy regulator and largest utility both came under fire for their ties to ALEC and other Koch-backed groups.

Nationwide, the larger fight over decentralized solar power is far from over. David Crane, chief executive of NRG, an independent power producer that is concentrating heavily on rooftop solar told the New York Times that utilities companies’ obstruction of rooftop solar will come with a heavy cost. “The more they charge people who are generating most of their own electricity for backing up that self-generation, they’re going to encourage those people to find a solution that doesn’t involve the grid at all,” he said.

As for the rest of the solar industry, GTM reports that installations in the non-residential (commercial) market will likely remain flat in 2013 compared to last year, while the utility sector continues its remarkable growth — anticipating over 1 GW of installations in Q4, “the first time any individual market segment has exceeded that mark.” And on the state level, California continues to lead the way, installing 455 MW of solar PV in the third quarter of this year alone.