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Clean Power U.S. Solar Manufacturing Plants (Over 50). Credit: SEIA & GTM Research

Published on September 21st, 2011 | by Breath on the Wind

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Solar Industry on Solyndra, Tremendous Job Growth (100,000 US Jobs Now), & Doubling of Installed PV



GTM Research and the Solar Energy Industries Association’s (SEIA) latest report came with two surprises. Overall, was the need to respond to false suggestions that the solar industry is a weak or ailing industry that is being supported, against the public interest, only on the backs of government money.

Solyndra

Lower PV module prices are in the industry’s benefit as a component of overall PV electric costs that need to be on par with other forms of electricity (without taking health, national security, and environmental externalities of fossil fuels into account, which would already make solar cost-competitive or even much cheaper).

Solyndra was marketing a competing product to more expensive crystal silicone modules. When a glut of silicone modules and cheap production in China caused a price collapse, Solyndra lost its profitability and the government may lose its money. That glut is presently being investigated and the industry welcomes any Congressional investigation that will help uncover more facts.

What complicates the issue is that loan guarantees were issued under government programs that were started with the Bush Administration. The process was completed under the present administration and, with the present political climate, any perceived failure is being attacked without regard for the potential harm it may do to working people, an industry, or the country by opponents of the industry.

The Solar Industry is showing its highest employment, growth, and innovation at a time when the balance of the country is not, however. 6,735 new solar jobs were created between August 2010 and August 2011. Solyndra was an exception, not a representation of the industry as a whole.

U.S. Solar Manufacturing Plants (Over 50). Credit: SEIA & GTM Research

Solar Industry Employment

Rhone Resch, president and CEO of SEIA, tells us “More than 100,000 Americans are employed in solar, twice as many as in 2009. They work at more than 5,000 companies… across all 50 states.” Stephen Lacey of Climate Progress wrote an excellent article yesterday to further emphasize not only our present solar industry employment but the potential growth (chart from that below). This is something we’ve covered a number of times before as well, and the story hasn’t changed.

Growth

Most of the growth in the last quarter was in the utility (+37 %) and commercial (+22%) markets. Residential PV experienced a 5.7 percent drop over last quarter. In the second half of 2011 and into 2012 , however, residential solar-leasing business models are expected to expand nationwide and encourage renewed growth.

Installed PV to DOUBLE in US in 2011

In 2011, the US solar industry is advancing in world market share, from the 5-7% that has held steady at since 2005 (exact global market share numbers to come in the future), and the country is on schedule to double the total installed PV of 2010 in 2011. In Q2, the U.S. solar photovoltaics (PV) market installed 314 megawatts, 69 percent more than Q2-2010 and 17 percent more than the first quarter of 2011.

In the concentrating solar market, including both concentrating solar power (CSP) and concentrating PV technologies, over 600 megawatts are now under construction in the U.S. The U.S. concentrating solar pipeline now holds more than 7,000 megawatts (enough to power 1.4 million homes), of which more than 4,000 megawatts of projects have signed power purchase agreements with utilities.

Innovation

We might well ask if the US can compete in industries where 3rd world countries supply labor at a lower rate. But solar energy is a domestic resource. It is to be collected domestically. It is our workforce that is to be employed to build the infrastructure that will benefit our society. Solar PV modules are most cheaply built in factories by automation. Innovation and engineering will lower costs, not cheap labor. The modules are even cheaper if they are built domestically. There are now 51 companies building PV modules in the US. The US market is so strong that companies from around the world will supply the need if we don’t provide the economic setting.

Economic Stability

What is needed most for continued solar industry growth in the U.S. is stability. With stability, we can predict potential income and avoid risks. Solyndra failed due to market instability and an inability to adapt. Long-established companies like those found in the petrochemical industry have many years of growth and capitalization to fall back on or draw from, along with subsidies and supportive policies that have lasted over a century. Like a small sun-green potted plant, the solar industry needs attention and stability if it is to grow.

While U.S. solar is on track for a banner year overall, the market does face potential challenges in 2012 and, if appropriate policies are not implemented, we could stunt the type of growth seen in the industry over the past year and a half. “The potential expiration of the 1603 Treasury program, along with current malaise in major markets such as New Jersey and Pennsylvania, threatens to slow growth in 2012,” said Shayle Kann, Managing Director of Solar at GTM Research.

The Vision

What is ailing us is not the solar industry, but our political discourse and our fascination with failure. Like watching a car wreck, our attention is easily diverted by the promise of morbid entertainment. Except for those ready and able to take advantage of public interest, these entertainments are not giving us our livelihood. That is more likely to be found by a vision of the sun shining over every curiosity.

Resources:

The U.S. Solar Market Insight: 2nd Quarter 2011 report
Executive Summary (Free)
Full report (Purchase)
U.S. Solar Energy Trade Assessment
9/20/11 press release and teleconference with Rhone Resch and Shayle Kann

Top Photo via Alex Bellink

 

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About the Author

We share this World; its past, present resources and our combined future. With every aspiration, the very molecules we use for life are passed to others through time and space so that each of us may be considered a Breath on the Wind. This part of the world's consciousness lives in NYC; has worked in law, research, construction, engineering; has traveled, often drawn to Asia; writes on Energy and Electric Vehicle issues and looks forward to all your comments.   "If you would persuade, you must appeal to interest rather than intellect." -- Benjamin Franklin



  • Ellen Grace Gallares

    I consider myself as the sun shining over every curiosity. I happen to hear about renewable energy like solar and wind energy. I also heard that these technologies are relevant, important and very much needed BUT it is expensive. By necessity brought about the recent calamities that fell on our Province, we are now using solar led lights and solar panel. I got interested to know more about this so I can optimize the benefits of renewable energy.

    • Bob_Wallace

      In the US onshore wind is now one of the two cheapest ways to bring new generation to the grid. Long term contracts for wind-electricity are being signed for an average cost of 4 cents per kWh. This is about the same as electricity from a combined cycle natural gas plant but over time gas prices are likely to rise.

      In the Southwest US solar contracts are now being signed for 5 cents per kWh.

      It is no longer the case that renewables are expensive. New renewable electricity is only a small amount more expensive than electricity from an older, paid off coal or nuclear plant. New coal or nuclear would be 2x to 3x more expensive than wind and solar.

      In some parts of the world and in some parts of the US end-user “rooftop” solar is now about the same cost or cheaper than power from the grid. In places like Germany and Australia rooftop solar is considerably cheaper than grid electricity.

      Just a few years ago wind and solar were expensive. But costs have fallen very, very rapidly.

      • Breath on the Wind

        Surprisingly I have recently found several articles that propose that it is cheaper to use PV solar to power a heat pump electric water heater than to install a solar thermal hot water system. What makes a surprise is that solar thermal for hot water can be 5 times more efficient with the available energy than PV.

        It could be that this is accurate for a small scale one off short term basis but does not hold true for a large solar heating or water requirement.

        Thanks for the comment Bob.

        • Bob_Wallace

          I’ve read some of the water heating stuff. Seems to me that it’s highly site specific. One solution is not best all the time.

          • Breath on the Wind

            Yes, one of the articles was very general for the “northern US.” I tend to discount this as too general, but it did suggest an alternative. Another was for a system in Hawaii and does not have to contend with a very large change in temperature from the surroundings.

            But I have also heard another Mid-Atlantic situation where even a geothermal heat pump heating system was not cost effective compared to increasing the amount of solar PV and using basic electric resistance heating. Cost and energy efficiency do not always go hand. PV can be mass produced while other more energy efficient renewable options are not economically viable. Isn’t this the same situation that promoted the use of fossil fuels?
            ==
            To say that the situation is site specific is an essential observation for all renewable energy. The environment must be taken into consideration. Unfortunately this works against cost cutting mass production techniques. Either we don’t yet know all of what to look for or there is no replacement for observation and understanding.

            In the field of estimation unit pricing is often used to simplify the process. We see some of this with renewable energy but it is often applied vertically with a goal toward finding the cost of one project quickly rather than comparing between alternatives. When the cost of alternatives are only slowly understood, advocates, contractors and installers tend to go with what they know.

          • Bob_Wallace

            With 7 billion people (and growing) on the globe I think there’s plenty market to allow us to split over a variety of solutions and still maintain economies of scale.

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