Intersolar North America: US solar PV pain points and promise

Bettina Weiss, executive director, PV Group, at SEMI, noted Intersolar North America’s top themes: pulling the manufacturing supply chain back from the brink, and making sure that favorable policies and incentives are strengthened and not capped.

July 25, 2011 — Bettina Weiss, executive director, PV Group, at SEMI, wraps this year’s Intersolar North America in San Francisco, CA, this month, with a summary of the major themes. The “pain point” she heard brought up throughout the conference is the great concern regarding the future of solar photovoltaics (PV) manufacturing in the US and keeping a robust supply chain here. “We’ve seen a great trend in manufacturing moving overseas,” observed Weiss, “so policy will continue to play a critical role — favorable policies out of Washington, but also at the state and municipal level — to support these companies that want to set up shop here and want to keep manufacturing here.”



Weiss also noted that it’s the combination of both pulling the manufacturing supply chain back from the brink, and making sure that favorable policies and incentives are strengthened and not capped, that garnered the most interest in discussions at Intersolar North America. Among the legislation that SEMI is supporting on behalf of its members is the manufacturing tax credit; but the more promising government involvement in solar energy will probably happen at the state level (e.g., CA and NJ), said Weiss. “This is a very important industry; it will create jobs; it will put the U.S. back on the map when it comes to high-tech manufacturing.”

In other developments from the conference, Weiss explained that the focus at this year’s Fab Managers’ Forum was shifted from crystalline PV (2010’s topic) to thin-film PV manufacturing. “We wanted to see if there is a market in the US for thin-film technologies: the barriers, the cost drivers, and how the supplier community can respond to the challenges coming from manufacturers,” said Weiss (In the top figure, see Photon, CH2M Hill estimates of thin film solar PV’s “powerhouse” potential; provided courtesy of SEMI). The specific program coalesced around CIGS and CdTe technologies (In the bottom figure, see Luz Research’s 2010 analysis showing CdTe, led by First Solar, as the most profitable game in town. Provided courtesy of SEMI). “The jury is still out with respect to the future and the available market for thin-film, but when you look at the risks of losing the US supply chain and PV manufacturing in general, there’s going to be quite a push to make CIGS, CdTe, and a few other niche technologies in thin-film commercially viable.” 

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