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US Solar PV Manufacturer Suniva Plans Expansion

It's been a tough several years for solar PV manufacturing. The common refrain has been that Chinese competition has undercut solar cells and modules made elsewhere to the point of market instability. That's why the U.S. laid out penalties on Chinese solar imports last year, and why Europe is positioning to do so now.

Domestic U.S. solar manufacturers' woes are well documented up and down the supply chain in both silicon solar PV (some of it self-inflicted) and on the thin-film side. So it's nice to hear, once in a while, even a small note of positivity from the domestic solar PV manufacturing community.

Suniva says it is expanding its operations in Norcross, Georgia thanks to "unprecedented sales bookings" in the first quarter of 2013 and being "sold out of capacity" for the current quarter. The U.S. is Suniva's largest market, and Suniva's business typically spans projects sized from 200 kW up to 6 MW (and some up to 20 MW), according to Bryan Ashley, chief marketing officer at Suniva. He indicated that recent growth has been broad-based but particularly strong on the residential side. He also said the company hopes to see more growth "south of the border," but wouldn't specify whether that refers to Mexico or more broadly to Latin America.

The expansion amounts to some equipment upgrades at its 24×7 cell manufacturing plant, more equipment and the addition of 48 employees so that its module assembly operation can increase from one shift to a 24×7 operation. "We don't have a crystal ball, but we sure hope that [this expansion] is permanent," Ashley added. He did not say whether or how much these improvements would add to its MW capacity in either cells or modules.

It should be noted that Suniva is among the smaller suppliers to the U.S. market, so its expansion won't cause a big shift in the manufacturing landscape. SunPower, Jabil, and MEMC have hundreds of MW of capacity and target the U.S. market, though most of those modules are imported (Philippines, Mexico, Asia, and Europe). And there's a difference, and distance, between a pipeline of promised and forecasted business vs. actual deliveries and what gets powered up in the field. It's also conceivable that Suniva is benefitting from pullbacks suffered by other domestic manufacturers in a sector that has broadly been struggling for a while. Ashley declined to say whether U.S. tariffs levied against Chinese products have also helped Suniva's business bump, but said that "we think it has had very little effect on pricing."

Lead image: Door opening with light via Shutterstock

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