Two new concentrating solar power (CSP) plants were constructed in 2010, with a combined capacity of 76 MW. Most of this capacity was at a 75 MW Florida plant that was the largest U.S. CSP installation since 1991.

Thanks to strong consumer demand and financial incentives at the federal and local levels, the US solar market is booming. The Interstate Renewable Energy Council (IREC) released the Solar Market Trends Report for 2010. The report includes 2010 installation data for solar electric photovoltaic (PV), solar heating and cooling and concentrating solar technologies. Growth in the PV utility sector was the most dramatic—the capacity of installed utilities quadrupled in 2010. In addition, PV installations in both the residential and the commercial sectors grew by more than 60%.

California still ranks as the largest US market with some 28% of installed capacity completed in 2010 but the state faces some competition as other states embrace renewables. Arizona, Colorado, Massachusetts, Nevada, New Jersey, New Mexico, Pennsylvania and Texas made huge strides, at least doubling their installed PV capacity since 2009.

The number of solar heating and cooling installations also increased for 2010. And despite being below the peak achieved in 2006, the capacity of solar pool heating installations increased by 13% in 2010, compared to 2009.

Two new concentrating solar power (CSP) plants were connected to the grid in 2010, with a combined capacity of 76 megawatts (MW). Most of this capacity was at a 75MW Florida plant, the largest US CSP installation since 1991.

The long-term extension of the federal solar investment tax credit (ITC) should continue to contribute to solar growth in the US.

Over the near term, the prospect for growth in solar installations is bright. Early indicators point to continued market growth in 2011 due to the long-term extension of the federal solar investment tax credit (ITC), recent federal legislation that allows utilities to take advantage of the ITC, and a deadline to start construction by the end of 2011 to participate in the federal cash grant program.

Companies have announced plans for many large solar electric projects, including both PV and CSP projects. Some of these projects are under construction and will come on-line between 2011 and 2014.

Concentrating solar power (CSP) systems use mirrors and collecting receivers to heat a fluid to a high temperature (from 300°F to more than 1,000°F), and then run the heat extracted from the fluid through a traditional turbine power generator or Stirling engine. CSP can also be paired with existing or new traditional power plants, providing high-temperature heat into the thermal cycle.

These generating stations typically produce bulk power on the utility side of the meter rather than generating electricity on the customer side of the meter. CSP plants were first installed in the United States in the early 1980s, and installations continued through the early 1990s.

Although many of these installations still generate power today, few new systems had been installed since the early 1990s until recently. Installations have resumed, with one large plant constructed in 2010 and a significant number of announcements for new plants projected to be completed between 2011-2015.

In another application, concentrating solar thermal can provide high temperature solar process heat for industrial or commercial applications. A few systems are installed each year using this technology.

In 2010 the largest concentrating solar power plant since the 1980s was completed when Florida Power and Light installed a 75 MWAC CSP plant near Indiantown, Florida. In addition, one small CSP plant was installed in Colorado. This plant provides supplemental heat to an existing coal-fired power plant.

The future prospects for CSP plants look bright. Several different companies have announced plans totaling over 10,000 MW of generating capacity, and some received required permits and financing in 2011. These plants will be constructed over the next few years.