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Solar Stoked for 2014 After Record Q4

Quoted in the SEIA press release, Shayle Kann, senior vice president of Greentech Media Research said, "2013 offered the U.S. solar market the first real glimpse of its path toward mainstream status. The combination of rapid customer adoption, grassroots support for solar, improved financing terms, and public market successes displayed clear gains for solar in the eyes of both the general population and the investment community."

The SEIC report estimates total solar capacity will grow another 26% in 2014.

And it has plenty of room to grow. Even with all that new activity, solar still currently accounts for only 8.1 gigawatts or 0.7% of current total installed electric-generating capacity in the U.S., according to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. That figure likely does not include most of the residential and small commercial installations that make up a sizable chunk of solar power nationally, but no matter how you look at it, solar's piece of the pie is small.

But it is growing and investors are taking note. The NYSE Bloomberg Global Solar Index is up over 21% year to date.

Recent corporate adopters of solar include include Wal-Mart (WMT), CostCo (COST), Kohl's  (KSS), Apple (AAPL) and Ikea. According to Wal-Mart's corporate Web site, the discount retailer has "150 solar installations in seven countries, delivering 71 million kilowatt hours of energy annually to our stores, clubs and distribution centers."

In addition to solar installations at facilities around the world, Apple has the largest user-owned solar panel array in the U.S., a 20-megawatt power facility at its data center in Maiden, N.C. 

Among photovoltaic companies in the U.S., SunPower (SPWR - Get Report) operates in utility and plant construction but also has a residential unit that is second only to SolarCity (SCTY - Get Report) for domestic installations.

Shares of SolarCity recently got a boost from the announcement by its sister company, Tesla (TSLA), that the car maker would build a "Gigafactory" for the construction of new batteries, including the stationary units SolarCity is rolling out for use in business and residential installations.

FirstSolar  (FSLR - Get Report), the largest panel maker in the U.S., recently disappointed on earnings and revenue for the fourth quarter and lowered first-quarter guidance. However the company offered that the lowered guidance should not affect full year results as it was expecting revenue later in the year for projects it is building now.

Shares of SunPower closed down 1.5% in Wednesday's session at $35.36. Shares of SolarCity closed down 2.7% at $80.42. Shares of FirstSolar closed up 0.76% at $58.15

-- Written by Carlton Wilkinson in New York

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