The United States installed more solar panels in 2012 than in any previous year, according to a new report, with residential use of solar power up 70 percent over 2011.
By the end of this year, homeowners, businesses and utility companies will have installed enough photovoltaic cells to produce 3.2 gigawatts (or GW) of electricity in the United States, up from 1.9 GW last year, according to the U.S. Solar Market Insight Report.
The report was produced by GTM Research Solar and a trade association, the Solar Energy Industries Association.
California led the charge this year with new installations of residential and commercial panels and facilities for utility companies. Next was Arizona, where utility companies installed the majority of new facilities.
In an op-ed piece in The New York Times last week, two alternative-energy advocates, David Crane and Robert F. Kennedy Jr., called for "Solar Panels for Every Home," arguing that a move toward grid independence would reduce the risk of blackouts like the one that affected thousands of people in the Northeast after Hurricane Sandy. (The majority of residential solar panels are third-party-owned, meaning that many users don't own the panels on their own roofs.)
But the growth of solar in the United States comes amid something of a global trade war.
In May, the United States imposed a 31 percent tariff on Chinese-manufactured solar panels. The step was taken after some $3.1 billion worth of Chinese-made solar panels were sold in the United States in 2011, according to U.S. Department of Commerce figures cited by Keith Bradsher and Diane Cardwell of The Times.
In August, Rendezvous reported on the difficulties that some European solar manufacturers were having in competing with inexpensive Chinese products.
Both Europe and the United States charge that China has been selling solar panels overseas for less than their manufacturing cost and effectively subsidizing the industry. Although solar panels are included in China's five-year economic plan - which ends in 2015 - Beijing has denied the dumping charges.
After the European Union finally decided to open its own anti-dumping investigation in September, the Chinese government took its case to the World Trade Organization, as Keith reported.
"Developing solar photovoltaic renewable energy is conducive to resolving the serious challenges of energy security and climate change facing humanity, in line with the common interests of all countries," said Shen Danyang, a spokesman for China's Commerce Ministry.
Despite an increasing market for panels in the United States and elsewhere, all sides acknowledge that the market is oversaturated. China's solar industry - at risk of losing its huge export market because of the recently imposed tariffs - was described as an "abandoned baby" by the president of the Chinese Renewable Energy Industry Association, Li Junfeng, according to the state-run newspaper China Daily.
"It was everyone's favorite when it could make money," he said, "but now, it has lost favor with media and investors."
The new report puts global solar manufacturing capacity at 70 GW while an estimated 31 GW are currently needed. But China recently announced that it would increase its own production goals to 40 GW from 21 GW.
Prices in the United States are still on the decline. For residential users, for example, the price of installing solar has decreased in the past year by 15.3 percent, the report found.