Solar panel installations increase, but industry still faces challenges

The report — conducted by SEIA and consulting firm GTM Research — says 314 megawatts of solar photovoltaic panels were installed in the United States in the second quarter of 2011. That’s 69 percent more than in the second quarter of 2010 and 17 percent more than were installed in the first quarter of 2011.

The U.S. will install 1,750 megawatts of photovoltaic panels in 2011, a figure that doubles the number of megawatts installed last year, the report projects.

Much of the increase in installations comes in the non-residential sector, the report says, noting that residential installations actually decreased by 5.7 percent in the second quarter.

SEIA warned that the possible expiration of a Treasury Department grant program established under the 2009 stimulus law could cause major problems for the industry, potentially slowing growth in 2012.

“Overall, 2012 is anticipated to be a more difficult year for the U.S. market given declines in a number of major markets and potential Section 1603 Treasury Program expiration,” the report says.

The report comes at a particularly sensitive time for the U.S. solar industry. Solyndra, a politically connected California-based solar firm that received a $535 million loan guarantee from the Obama administration, filed for bankruptcy last month.

The incident has drawn the ire of House Republicans, who have used the bankruptcy to blast the Obama administration’s push for major investments in clean energy.

Industry analysts fear the debacle could further poison the well for administration efforts to invest in the industry.