The pipeline of incoming solar photovoltaic projects in the United States currently exceeds 43 gigawatts following 12 months of robust growth on the back of an increase in more modest-sized developments.

According to renewable energy market research firm NPD Solarbuzz, the pipeline of solar PV projects awaiting completion in the United States grew by seven per cent over the past year to surpass 43 gigawatts, enough energy to meet the needs of six million households.

This rate of growth is set to make the US the third biggest solar PV market in the world by 2014, trailing only China and Japan.

“The increase in new solar PV projects being planned or under construction is driving double-digit annual growth forecasts for PV adoption within the United States,” said Michael Barker, senior analyst with NPD Solarbuzz.

The composition of new projects awaiting completion has also changed, with smaller projects now rising to prominence, as opposed to the mega projects in excess of 100 megawatts which were previously dominant.

Of the more than 2,400 projects in the US PV pipeline, the vast majority are 20 megawatts or under – 43.7 per cent are between 50 kilowatts and one megawatt, while a further 40.8 per cent are between one and 20 megawatts. This is the result of an increase in projects under 30 megawatts of 33 per cent in just the past 12 months to more than 2,100.

“Projects of all sizes have become increasingly viable, due to declines in solar PV system pricing in the past year,” said Parker.

Another major reason for the shift to smaller projects is the deadline for qualification for a full US Investment Tax Credit (ITC) of 30 per cent in 2017, which means developers want to push through schedules more swiftly.

“With just three years remaining until the full tax credit incentive rate declines, solar PV project developers in the United States are now planning to complete projects, or have a significant portion under construction, prior to the 2017 deadline,” said NPD Solarbuzz analyst Christine Beadle. “This deadline is causing a shift in focus to smaller projects that can be completed on shorter timescales.”

Near-term solar PV development in the US nonetheless remains dominated by several key mega projects, including Mount Signal Solar, Copper Mountain, Calexico, Desert Sunlight and Topaz. Given their scale, mega projects also account for a disproportionate share of total installation, with the 10 biggest solar PV developments comprising more than five gigawatts of new capacity set to commence operation in the next three years.