Solar power may be the fastest growing industry in the country, says one of its leading proponents. The base from which it is growing may be small, but the rate of increased is unmatched in the renewables space.

“Solar is the fastest growing industry in the United States today,” said Rhone Resch, president & CEO of the Solar Energy Industries Association. “Smart policy investment here in Washington combined with innovative business models and higher technology efficiency has allowed the U.S. solar industry to drive down costs year after year.”

He cites that in 2010 alone, the installed cost of solar declined by 20 percent. That has led to the employment of 100,000 workers in the solar industry across all 50 states with that number expected to more than double in the next two years.

“In 2010 the U.S. market more than doubled (to 1,000 megawatts) and we’re expecting another record year, and in a few years the U.S. will be the largest market in the world,” Resch added.

Of course, the federal policy support that has helped sustain the market needs to continue, although the market has developed some momentum through the various states.

On the project development side, SolarReserve has a portfolio of more than 3,000 megawatts in process, including the $737 million federal loan guarantee for the 110-megawatt Crescent Dunes molten salt power tower concentrating solar power project in Nevada.

Surety and clarity is what Tom Georgis, senior vice president, development, for SolarReserve said is needed. “Several years ago SolarReserve realized that numerous types of technologies were going to be deployed at utility scale market conditions. We made a strategic decision to diversify and expand our portfolio for utility scale,” he said.

“Absent that certainty, it will be challenging in the near term for the U.S. market,” Georgis said.

Longer term, he said there will be a “tremendous expansion” of opportunity, not just in the American Southwest, but throughout the rest of the U.S. and North America.

A diversification strategy with CSP or photovoltaics is in play at Arizona Public Service, said Pat Dinkel the vice president of resource planning at the utility. APS has contracted with Abengoa for the Solana CSP project at Gila Bend. The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) has issued a $1.45 billion loan guarantee project.

The utility also has an initiative to invest up to $500 million for 100 megawatts of utility financed PV. “this is part of our diversification strategy, recognizing the difficulty in getting transmission interconnections, so we are locating six plants throughout Arizona from between 15 and 20 megawatts each,” he said.

On the manufacturing side Vice President of Government Affairs for SCHOTT North America, Jim Stein, said the German company saw opportunities in the U.S. and entered in 2007. It has a plant in Albuquerque, N.M.

“We have a manufacturing facility that employs 300 but could scale up to 1,500. It’s a one-of-a-kind kind in that it manufactures PV panels and receivers for CSP,” he said. “We wanted to hedge our bets in the space, by pursuing this diversification.”
With an uncertain policy market in the U.S., the more hedges the better.

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