Report: US PV solar creates big domestic value

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 most of the billions of dollars it contributes in global economic value within its borders.

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 most of the billions of dollars it contributes in global economic value within its borders.

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

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 above. (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% 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 “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 homegrown.
  • US solar installations created $3.59B in direct value to the global economy in 2009; of that, $2.64B stayed within US borders. The vast majority (81%) of that domestic value came from PV, with solar heating/cooling (16%) and concentrated PV (3%) making 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. $1.01B exported). PV cell exports ($115M) and imports ($119M) were about in balance. Far more inverters came from overseas ($134M imports vs. $13M exports), but three times as many wafers were shipped out of the US than in ($37M vs. $13M).
  • 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. “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,” he stated.

The full version of the report can be found at— JM

Chinese suppliers top PV cell, module supplier rankings

Chinese crystalline PV giants Suntech and JA Solar surpassed First Solar in PV module shipments and PV cell production, according to IMS Research’s 3Q10 rankings.

Demand for PV modules remained very strong in 3Q with shipments jumping 20% to 5.4GW, and increases for each of the 10 largest suppliers. Note that half of all modules shipped in 3Q were from Chinese suppliers, five out of the top seven suppliers were Chinese crystalline suppliers, and all of the companies that improved their rankings were Chinese.

PV cell and modules, MWs produced/shipped, in 3Q10. (Source: IMS Research)

While PV module shipment rankings remained unchanged vs. 2Q10, there’s a new leader in PV cell production—JA Solar increased its cell production by a massive 35%, pushing ahead of Suntech and former No.1 First Solar. Also gaining ground was Q-Cells, which has been recovering market share lost throughout 2009.

Chinese dominance aside, the outlook continues to be bright for the industry. IMS Research forecasts that PV module shipments will nearly double in 2010 to 18.9GW in 2010. And although growth will slow in 2011, shipments are still forecast to continue increasing at double-digit rates. — JM

The GCL/Wells Fargo deal: What it means

In November Wells Fargo agreed to provide more than $100 million of tax equity to GCL Solar Energy-sponsored projects by the end of 2011. The latest development from this GCL Poly Energy Holdings subsidiary, a quickly emerging Chinese producer of polysilicon ingots and wafers, is important in a number of respects, explains Lux Research’s Ted Sullivan in a research report.

First, the transaction—which he equates to roughly 40-50MW of new installations—breaks the mold cast by Yingli, Trina, and other integrated Chinese manufacturers by putting GCL into the project-development space. These other companies are integrated from ingot to module, and they hesitate to enter the US project space for fear of competing with their customers. Suntech Power took that leap (through subsidiary Gemini Solar) and “failed dramatically due to its poor understanding of the U.S. regulatory environment,” he writes.

Secondly, GCL’s move effectively duplicates the value-chain model established by the MEMC/SunEdison combination, putting GCL into the two parts of the value chain with the most pricing leverage: poly-to-wafer and project development. Thus the company can subjugate device manufacturers, especially those without access to their own polysilicon or end markets, into low-margin tolling arrangements.

Lastly, the GCL-Wells Fargo deal puts Chinese project developers directly in competition with US-owned project developers for limited tax equity financing. This was more of a concern before the US ITC grants were extended (sparing their expiration at year’s end)—but even so, any tax equity agreement subtracts from the appetitive available to keep other project developers active, he notes.

The fact that GCL Solar is partially (and explicitly) owned by the China Investment Corp. will likely elicit protectionist cries in the US solar market. Though this move is good news for GCL in the US market, look for potential political fallout as the strength of China’s energy policies take advantage of the paucity of similar policies in the US, Sullivan notes. — JM

Solar cell patents: Sharp leads with upstarts making progress

Sharp, Sanyo Electric, and Kyocera are tops in solar-cell-related patents in Japan, but printing and chemical companies are catching up, according to rankings compiled by domestic firm NU Intellectual Property Financial Services Co.

 Sharp, Japan’s top solar cell maker, is also No.1 in patents, according to the study. In the next fiscal year the company’s Sakai plant will start producing mc-Si cells utilizing a proprietary backside electrode arrangement which has multiple pending patents. The company also is working to increase mc-Si module efficiency from 15% to ~17% using thinner cells. Canon sits at third in established patents, but lags behind in pending patents. The company has been in the solar cell biz for nearly two decades and invested early in R&D, but withdrew from the module side in 2005 and now mainly sells manufacturing equipment.

Some printing and chemicals companies are applying their expertise into the solar cell arena. Toppan Printing Co., for example, has dramatically increased its pending patents amid beefed-up R&D efforts, including a 2008 tie-up with DuPont, as a step toward beginning full-scale production of backsheets and sealant. — JM 

NRG will acquire First Solar’s 290MW “Agua Caliente” project in Arizona.

The European Investment Bank and Enel Power have agreed on €600M financing for Italian renewable energy projects.

Korea’s POSCO Power reportedly wants to build a 300MW solar power plant in Nevada.

Abound Solar has secured >$500M in DoE loans and equity, to fund capacity expansion in CO and a new 640MW plant in Indiana.

The US’ largest PV plant (for now) has come online: The Sempra/First Solar 48MW “Copper Mountain” site near Las Vegas.

AU Optronics has opened a SunPower solar cell fab in Malaysia, to generate >1400MW worth of high-efficiency thin-film cells annually from 2013.

The EU is giving Sovello €15.5M for its thin-film module plant in Germany.

MiaSole is touting an NREL-confirmed 15.7% efficiency with large-area commercial-scale CIGS modules.

Meyer Burger won a CHF40M order in Asia for slicing, bricking, and automated gluing systems.

A zinc-aluminum oxide compound for transparent electrodes can improve conversion efficiency of Si- and CIGS-type thin-film solar cells by more than 1 percentage point, says Japan’s Tosoh.

Moser Baer is mulling a $500M upgrade of c-Si cells and modules in India.

Chinese PV capacity faces a tough 2011 with projected domestic oversupplies and sluggish international demand, says analyst group Wind Info.

Spain is once again taking the axe to solar power subsidies, this time with a planned ~30% reduction.

ET Solar has signed a 370MW solar cell procurement agreement with Neo Solar.

California has approved a “Renewable Auction Mechanism” FiT for small/midsize solar projects.

The DoE has guaranteed a $1.45B loan for the 250MW Abengoa solar thermal project.

Applied Materials, GT Solar, and Centrotherm were the top PV equipment suppliers in 2010, according to the Information Network.

Mears and K2 Energy will utilize tei’s fab for “nanodoped” silicon solar cells.

Circadian Solar says it has achieved 30% temperature-corrected peak module aperture efficiency with its CPV modules.

Energie Management Eberlein will deliver up to 31MWp of thin-film silicon modules to Bosch Solar Energy.

Two customers have ordered Oerlikon’s ThinFab equipment, and the company says likelihood of orders for a complete ThinFab line in 1H11 have “risen significantly.”

JinkoSolar will buy silicon ink from Innovalight and license process technologies.

The US Department of Energy has pledged up to $50M to fund solar energy technologies.

Dow has ramped production of ENLIGHT PV polyolefin encapsulant film at its production line in Findlay, OH.

SOLON has sold its inverters subsidiary to Delta Electronics Group GmbH.

A new process developed by Iowa State U. and the Ames Labs improves efficiency of polymer solar cells by 20%.

Konarka has achieved an NREL-certified 8.3% efficiency for its organic-based solar cells. 

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