A report released today by the Solar Energy Industries Association and GTM Research shows that solar power installations in the United States grew more in the third quarter of 2011 than in all of 2009. The growth in the third quarter of 2011 totaled more than 240% of the growth in the third quarter of 2010, and by year’s end the United States will have installed 1.7 gigawatts of solar energy – the same amount of energy as two nuclear power plants.

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The pace of solar progress is expected to keep on growing in the current quarter as large-scale solar utility projects that have been in the works for years finally start sending energy into the grid. A full 200 MW of the 449.2 MW growth was made up of large-scale solar projects that were finally completed. “There has always been a big pipeline of utility-scale projects that take a while to get constructed,” Kann said in an interview. “We are expecting to see that through 2012.” In contrast, solar growth totaled 887 megawatts last year and 435 megawatts in 2009.

The state of California led the pack by hosting a full 44% of all solar installations. In California, homeowners have been opting into programs from third-party solar leasing companies, where the homeowner incurs no up-front costs for their array — it is paid for either over time or with the renewable energy that is sent into the grid. Solar power enthusiasts are hopeful that the 2012 solar growth numbers will stay high, but their hopes might be thwarted if the U.S. Treasury Department’s 1603 program — which provides cash grants to developers for solar installations — is not extended into the new year.

Via Bloomberg