Despite solar manufacturers’ struggles with bankruptcies and an oversupply problem this year, 2012 actually witnessed a dramatic growth in the world’s use of solar power. In particular the amount of solar panels installed on rooftops in the U.S. soared in recent quarters, helped by new financing models by companies like SolarCity and rock-bottom silicon prices — the main ingredient in solar panels.
In these 5 charts, we track the growth of solar power:
1). The amount of solar energy produced in the U.S. has risen 500 percent in 2012 alone, according to the Energy Information Administration.
2). The increase in solar production has to do in part with the growth of solar panel installation and capacity in the U.S. Solar panel installation is expected to rise nearly 70 percent this year, according to the Solar Energy Industry Association’s third-quarter report.
3). SolarCity’s IPO in late 2012 was one of the rare success stories for solar and cleantech startups. While some solar stocks have taken hits this year — due to over supply and super low prices — SolarCity was able to go public and its stock rose 50 percent on its first day of trading. The company, which finances and installs rooftop solar panels, originally priced its shares lower than expected, but the company’s stock price remains relatively high.
4). The price of silicon — the main material in solar panels — has dropped by half in less than two years, making solar panels cheaper to produce and to buy. The low prices, in turn, have fueled the growth of solar panel installations.
Silicon prices, source: Bloomberg New Energy Finance
5). As is common with new commodity industries that grow rapidly, solar cells and panels are now so cheap to produce and make that there’s an oversupply problem. According to SEIA, there’s now 70 GW worth of solar module manufacturing capacity, but the current world capacity for solar modules is only 31 GW.