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The Simple Math Behind Solar Power’s Expansion

As electricity prices rise for homeowners and businesses alike, alternative energy is getting more popular—and solar power in particular is seeing a lot of growth.

Solar installations were up 76 percent last year compared with 2011, with 3.3 gigawatts installed across the country, according to the Solar Energy Industry Association. About 1.2 American households currently use solar energy, according to an annual report released by the trade group.

RELATED: Interested in Solar Panels? You’re Not Alone

Since 2001 through last year, the average retail price of electricity in the United States has gone up 35 percent, while the average cost of having a photovoltaic system installed has fallen by nearly 70 percent, the association reported.

That level of growth could bode well for companies like First Solar (FSLR), YingLi (YGE) and SunTech (STP), which manufacture solar cells. First Solar in particular announced bullish expectations for the next several years, exceeding what analysts had been expecting. First Solar also said it plans to buy TetraSun—a startup that manufactures rooftop solar panels—briefly sending its stock higher mid-week.

“Solar has gone through a tremendous transformation in the past few years,” Solar Energy Industry Association Chairman Arno Harris told “Big Data Download.”

But the industry still faces challenges as the cost of using other forms of alternative energy falls as well, Harris said.
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