The U.S. economy may be sputtering at the edge of a double-dip recession, but that hasn’t stopped the solar photovoltaic industry from continuing its steady climb in the first quarter of this year. U.S. installations of solar panels saw a 66-percent increase in the first three months of 2011 compared to the same month last year, to grow to 252 megawatts of installations, according to figures from the Solar Energy Industries Associations (SEIA) and GTM Research. That brings total U.S. photovoltaic capacity to 2.85 gigawatts, or enough to power about 600,000 homes — a measure at once of the growth of the industry, and just how far it has yet to go to contribute more than a tiny fraction of the nation’s overall power demand. Still, amidst flagging economic conditions, it’s nice to see an industry that’s steadily growing. Some of this week’s solar news, including Google’s creation of a $280 million fund for solar installer/financier SolarCity, the closing of French oil giant’s $1.38 billion purchase of solar panel giant SunPower, and the IPO announcement of microinverter maker Enphase, help underscore the fact that where business is booming, financial and technological innovation will follow.