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Solar Installation Grew 76% In 2012

Solar panel installations in the U.S. grew 76 percent in 2012 as the cost of panels and the surrounding equipment continued to fall, according to an annual report by a solar trade group.

Job seekers wanting to break into the burgeoning green technology sector should give solar power special consideration.

The U.S. installed panels capable of producing 3,313 megawatts of peak electricity, up from 1,887 megawatts in 2011, the report said. The panels installed last year will generate about the same amount of electricity over a year as a medium-sized coal plant, enough to power 400,000 U.S. homes.

Solar grew in large part because prices continued to fall. The average cost of a solar system dropped 27 percent last year.

Also, financing programs flourished that allow homeowners to install solar on their roofs for little or no money down while paying less overall for electricity.

While helping installers, utilities and homeowners, the plummeting panel prices have devastated the finances of solar panel makers around the world. The biggest U.S. solar manufacturer, First Solar Inc., has lost money in each of the last two years. Suntech Power Holdings Corp. Ltd., the biggest Chinese maker, is facing a cash crunch and appears to be on the brink of bankruptcy.

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