The View on the Residential Solar Market in the US from the UK
The solar industry in the U.S. likes to congratulate itself for the explosive growth that it has experienced. Despite the gains, the inroads that solar energy has made in the United States have been relatively modest. At least this is the view from the United Kingdom, where the Guardian contends that "Solar power in the US is booming in large scale utility-size projects, but the residential market is ‘plodding along.'"
The main beef that the Guardian has with the solar industry in the US is that there has been an increasing percentage of utility scale projects to the detriment of distributed solar. According to the article, residential solar's share of the total U.S. solar market has dropped from 36 percent to 30 percent.
The article points out that the U.S. is a laggard compared to the leading solar country on the planet, Germany, which installed 7,400 megawatts of photovoltaic systems in 2010 alone, more than double the entire existing capacity in the U.S.
According to the Guardian's critique of the solar industry in the United States, the major hurdle in the U.S. is not surprisingly cost and "the main drivers of residential solar installations are state and federal incentives that help defray those [high] costs." But as the Guardian points out, "yet even these are in jeopardy as governments at all levels slash budgets." The article asks the question that is foremost on people's minds: "The unanswered question is whether the solar industry can thrive without such strong federal and state financial incentives."
The major source of growth seems to be in third-party ownership with companies like SunRun and Solar City installing a solar energy system for little or no upfront cost. Another major trend is that the cost of solar panels has dropped considerably, making the cost more affordable.