Report shows U.S. major exporter of solar in 2009

The report showed that U.S. solar market is an overall net exporter of solar technology and that the market expanded in 2010 and is likely to expand into 2011 and beyond.

The Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA®) and GTM Research released the most comprehensive study to date analyzing trade flow and domestic value creation in the U.S. solar industry. “U.S. Solar Energy Trade Assessment 2010” found the U.S. solar industry is a significant net exporter of solar energy products, with net exports totaling $723 million in 2009. Additionally, U.S. solar installations created $2.6 billion in direct value to support the U.S. economy.

“Solar is a global industry. The U.S. imports and exports product from every continent. But in addition to being a major net exporter of solar energy products, the industry is creating significant wealth in the United States and jobs in all 50 states,” said Rhone Resch, President and CEO of SEIA.

While concentrated solar power technologies, like solar troughs and towers, weren’t a large player in 2009—there were only two such domestic installations—that will change in the future, explained Kimbis. He said recent approvals by the Bureau of Land Management are allowing the domestic development of significant concentrating solar power plants in 2010 and beyond.

The report looked at the manufacturing of solar panels, concentrating solar thermal equipment and solar water and pool heating systems. The largest sector belongs to producers of components and final products for solar panels. Its release seemed late considering that 2010 is almost over. SEIA and GTM representatives said the report required a lot of time for gathering and analyzing data because they hadn’t produced this kind of report before.

Exports of silicon wafers for making solar cells accounted for $37 million in 2009, compared with $13 million in imports.

Solar cell and panel assembly presented a trade deficit, which isn’t surprising considering that the largest U.S. solar panel makers, First Solar and SunPower, have long set up a big part of their manufacturing operations in places such as Malaysia and the Philippines to take advantage of generous tax packages or proximity to their customers, or both.

On the other hand, a growing number of manufacturers based in Europe and Asia have set up factories in the United States. These manufacturers include Sharp, SolarWorld, Sanyo and Schott Solar.

“We’re pleased that the solar industry is helping to reduce the U.S. trade deficit through significant exports of solar energy products. We are seeing investments in U.S. manufacturing in areas of the country hit hard by the recession – Tennessee, Michigan, Ohio and others. But we’re concerned that there is a lack of stable, long-term federal policies in the U.S. amidst an increasingly competitive global marketplace. Even modest federal policies like expanding the 48c manufacturing tax credit can help the U.S. solar industry remain one of the few sectors of our economy that is a net exporter, while creating tens of thousands of jobs,” said Resch.

"This report provides the most comprehensive outlook on U.S. solar energy value creation and trade flows ever published,” said Shayle Kann, Managing Director, Solar at GTM Research. “In addition to examining the location of final assembly of solar products, it considers earlier steps in the value chain and non-component costs such as installation labor, system design and permitting. These factors, which make up more than half of total system costs, are a vital part of any solar project."