Despite Recent Bankruptcies, U.S. Solar Manufacturing Not Dead
There has been a spate of news stories about the demise of solar manufacturing here in the United States. And now the brouhaha that has erupted over the tanking of Solyndra is becoming increasingly marked by partisan finger pointing. Politicians in the U.S. will debate government support for of renewable technology projects as China's state-funded banks continue to happily loan billions to Chinese solar companies such as SunTech. The outlook does not look bright for solar manufacturing in the US, but despite the onslaught of bad news, it may be easy to forget that there are some bright spots for manufacturing solar modules in the US.
Major solar manufacturers such as First Solar, which produces thin film modules, are still going strong. In fact, First Solar has announced new solar projects in California, Arizona and Canada, and has made a supply deal with Reliance Power in India. The company also aims to reduce production costs in the future in order to remain competitive.
Small start-ups are flourishing in states with strong government incentives regarding the production and purchase of solar systems. TenKSolar, a flat-roof solar panel manufacturer, says its first-year sales are on target and it expects to be generating income soon. Minneapolis's generous incentive programs, offered by the local utility company, along with Minnesota's incentives for purchasing state-made solar panels and a $500,000 federal stimulus grant have helped the company's sales.
Many more enterprises bring equally good news; GT Advanced Technologies, for example, recently acquired Confluence Solar in order to decrease the cost and increase the efficiency of its photovoltaic products.
These stories show that U.S. solar panel producers can make money, but only if they stay cost competitive while offering products with features that are attractive. TenKSolar, for instance, produces panels that reflect additional solar radiation into the cells.
The industry is nonetheless facing pressure, and U.S. manufacturers will have to be creative in order to stay in the market. Realizing the need to stimulate the industry and make it competitive, the U.S. government plans on funding several projects that promise to cut manufacturing costs. Recently, the government announced that it would allocate $150 million to 1366 Technologies to develop multicrystalline solar wafers at half the cost of current production methods. Such programs may help the U.S. solar manufacturing industry stay alive in the face of foreign, low-cost competition.