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Chart of the day: U.S. solar shipments skyrocket

Posting in Energy

U.S. shipments of solar photovoltaic modules hit a record high in 2011, increasing nearly 43 percent from the previous year to 3,772,075 peak kilowatts due, in part, to declining prices caused by competitive pressure and a rush to construct projects before the expiration of a federal grant program, according to U.S. Energy Information Administration report.

In 2011, the value of PV cell shipments totaled nearly $1.7 billion and the value of PV module shipments hit nearly $6 billion, the EIA said.

The fall in prices was good news for consumers. It also created a difficult and highly competitive marketplace, ultimately leading to a string of bankruptcies. Solar panel makers have particularly suffered as they try to survive in a market where sales are up, but prices have been falling even faster, consequently dragging down, even eliminating, profits.

The average price of PV cells decreased more than 18 percent  from $1.13 per peak watt in 2010 to $0.92 in 2011. The average price of PV modules dropped nearly 19 percent from $1.96 per peak watt in 2010 to $1.59 in 2011.

The tough market conditions caused companies to reduce expenses, often by cutting their workforce. In 2011, there were 120 companies, including PV manufacturers, importers and exporters, the EIA said. Employment in PV-related jobs fell nearly 10 percent to 15,777 full-time equivalent positions in 2011. Based on company reports, 75 companies had no change in employment levels, while 45 companies, including several that are no longer in business, had decreases in workers.

Graphic: EIA

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— By on September 27, 2012, 7:17 AM PST

Kirsten Korosec

Contributing Editor

Kirsten Korosec has written for Technology Review, Marketing News, The Hill, BNET and Bloomberg News. She holds a degree from Northwestern University's Medill School of Journalism. She is based in Tucson, Arizona. Follow her on Twitter. Disclosure