Utilities add solar, but panel growth slows elsewhere

Electric utilities installed 42 percent more solar power generating capacity in the second quarter of the year than the same period a year ago, according to an industry trade group.

But overall solar installation  – including individual residential and commercial systems — grew just 1.5 percent  compared with the April-June period in 2012, according to the Solar Energy Industries Association.

The organization predicted solar installations would pick up in the remainder of 2013, with a total of 4.4 gigawatts of solar power generating capacity expected to be added by the end of the year.

That would be a 30 percent jump over 2012, in which the industry set a record for new panels installed.

Texas ranked No. 15 in new solar installations during the quarter, the group said.

Solar: Texas claims cheapest solar installations, as prices drop nationwide

Some of the factors driving new solar installations are low prices for the systems. Utilities can pay as low as $3.05 per watt of solar power generating capacity installed, which is down 11.1 percent from a year ago, the organization said.

A recent report from the U.S. Department of Energy’s Lawrence Berkeley Laboratory showed that the cost of buying and installing solar panels fell 14 percent between 2011 and 2012 for the average residential system.

The report said that Texas had the lowest median price nationally for solar panel installations in 2012, costing $3.90 per watt.

Estimates of solar installation costs typically do not include savings from federal, state or local incentives.

Solar owners can also make money on unused energy that their panels produce and send into the electric grid, providing additional resources for retailers. But the net energy metering plans that compensate homeowners for that excess energy are being renegotiated in some regions of the country, the Solar Energy Industries Association said.

That has slowed the growth in the residential and commercial solar market, as businesses and homeowners reconsider the value of potential solar installations.

“The next twelve months will be vital in determining the outcome of these debates, as regulators and policymakers in a number of key states (particularly Arizona and California) will make decisions impacting the future of (net energy metering),” the organization said. “The importance of this issue cannot be overstated, especially for the residential solar market, as the outcomes will strongly impact state markets for years to come.”