Report: US PV solar creates big domestic value

A study released by the SEIA and GTM Research finds that the US solar industry is making good money as a net exporter of solar energy products, but needs some help if it wants to keep it that way in a global market that’s increasingly complex and competitive.

December 17, 2010 – A study released by the SEIA and GTM Research finds that the US solar industry is a big exporter of solar energy products, and manages to keep nearly three-quarters of the billions of dollars it contributes in global economic value within its borders.

Among key facts and findings in the report, “US Solar Energy Trade Assessment 2010”:

— About 435MW of grid-interactive PV systems were installed in the US in 2009. A “typical” PV installation breakdown for a small commercial-sized system using c-Si modules is shown below (note the costs are “blended” to balance the different cost structures of c-Si and thin-film; these were calculated separately and then combined based on market share). Of the roughly $6.90/W for all components, 71% of that was sourced in the US, creating $4.90 in domestic value — mainly attributed to site prep, labor, “value chain mark-up” (i.e. overhead and margins), and other “soft” costs such as permitting, legal, engineering, financing, etc. Bottom line: Most components of a US PV installation are foreign, but the value-add is home-grown.

Blended PV system domestic value creation in 2009. *Includes permitting, legal,
engineering, financing, distribution, and value-chain markup. (Source: SEIA)

— US solar installations created $3.59B in direct value to the global economy in 2009, of which $2.64B stayed within US borders. The vast majority (81%) of domestic value created by solar came from PV; solar heating/cooling (16%) and concentrated PV (3%) made up the rest.

— The US was a $723M net exporter of solar trade in 2009: $2.314B exported, $1.591B imported. The biggest export was polysilicon ($1.12B vs. $84M imported); the biggest import was modules ($1.24B vs. $1.01M exported). PV cell exports ($115M) and imports ($119M) were about in balance. Far more inverters came from overseas ($134M imports vs. $13M exports). Three times as many wafers were exported ($37M) vs. imported ($13M). And the US sent abroad about 45% more value in solar water/pool heating ($16M) than it took in ($11M).

— Germany ($686M) was the largest individual solar exporter for the US, followed by Japan ($409M) and China ($280M). The “all other” category added up to $939M. For imports, the US took in the most solar goods from China ($430M), Mexico ($349M), Germany ($182M), the Philippines ($172M), and Japan ($164M); all other nations totaled $295M.

As the global solar PV marketplace grows more competitive and complex, there’s a glaring “lack of stable, long-term federal policies,” warns Rhone Resch, president/CEO of SEIA, in a statement. “Even modest federal policies like expanding the 48c manufacturing tax credit can help the US solar industry remain one of the few sectors of our economy that is a net exporter, while creating tens of thousands of jobs.”

There’s a lot to chew on in this report — the SEIA has the full version [PDF], plus an executive summary [PDF] and some fact sheets [PDF].