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U.S. solar panel usage through the roof

Lauren Sommer for NPR

Despite signs pointing to what could have been a grim year, 2011 was booming for American solar industries. According to a new GTM Research, solar panel installations more than doubled last year, with 1,855 megawatts of photovoltaic capacity going up as opposed to a mere 887 megawatts in 2010. That’s 109 percent growth, for those keeping score at home.

"In 2011, the market demonstrated why the U.S. is becoming a center of attention for global solar," said Shayle Kann, the managing director of the GTM Research’s solar practice in a press release. “It was the first year with meaningful volumes of large-scale PV installations.”

“We went from an industry that was installing megawatts a year to an industry that’s installing gigawatts,” adds Rhone Resch, president and chief executive officer of the Solar Energy Industries Association to the New York Times. “If we can attract the investment, the opportunity to grow is really limitless simply because demand for energy, and clean energy, is just so great.”

Much of the growth is being attributed to falling prices on the panels themselves, driven by companies opting for cheaper components out of China, who’ve been accused of selling solar hardware below cost. But what was good for growth was often bad for business, such as manufacturers like First Solar, whose tumbling stock has been at least partly attributed to losing business to foreign (and less expensive) suppliers.

While U.S. solar panel usage is expected to continue throughout 2012, a recent trade complaint made against China looks to impose “significant tariffs” on their solar imports in hopes of offsetting any financial advantages, with the potential of slowing overall growth.