Last year, the U.S. solar industry enjoyed its most successful year ever. Falling prices, consumer awareness and innovative policies are creating living-wage green jobs, improving energy productivity and expanding our domestic energy portfolio at an unprecedented rate. Solar energy is working for America, and it can work better for Georgia.

In 2011, the United States installed 1,855 megawatts of photovoltaic solar systems nationwide — enough to power 267,000 homes, a 109 percent increase over 2010, according to a report from the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA). This development constitutes a $56 billion investment, according to a Bloomberg New Energy Finance report.

The fourth quarter of 2011 saw the greatest nationwide volume of photovoltaic solar installation ever. These increases represent every sector including residential, commercial and utility. The U.S. share of the global solar market grew last year, from 5 percent to 7 percent, and this share is projected to reach 15 percent by 2016, according to SEIA.

With the recent announcements of a number of significant solar projects, Georgia’s solar investment is growing, too. Large, utility-scale systems such as Simon Solar Farm in Walton County and Azalea Solar Facility in Washington County, as well as significant rooftop installations, such as Sustainable Fellwood in Savannah, are among the projects recently completed or coming online in the months ahead to add to our current holdings of 17 megawatts.

Georgia is widely recognized for its potential in the solar industry. Studies regularly rank the state among the top 10 — even the top five — in available sun and other factors that support solar energy production. But currently our deployment of solar is less than 1 percent of the national total.

What holds us back? Legal barriers in Georgia law make solar development more difficult and expensive than in other states where policy has evolved to embrace and facilitate solar potential.

Our energy policy needs to progress to make a wider range of energy options available to businesses and homeowners in the market.

This year, I’m serving as chairman of the Georgia Solar Energy Association (www.gasolar.org). With more than 250 members statewide, we work to increase consumer awareness of solar potential and improve public policy to make it more available, and foster partnerships to realize it.

At our third annual Southern Solar Summit on Friday — open to the public at the GTRI Conference Center, 250 14th St. N.W., Atlanta — we will feature a number of solar industry experts from around the country who will confirm the high level of interest in the solar development potential Georgia holds. With solar prices continuing to fall and the imperative to expand our domestic energy portfolio, the time has never been better to explore how we can produce safer, cleaner energy for Georgia.

Anthony Coker is senior director of Strategic Partners at Suniva, an Atlanta-based designer and manufacturer of solar cells and modules. This article is reprinted with permission of GSEA.