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Photovoltaics Made in the USA

March 27, 2017

By Sadie Fulton, CEMAC analyst

The American solar photovoltaic (PV) market is dynamic and rapidly growing. In 2016, the U.S. solar industry installed 14.8 gigawatts (GW) of solar, a 97% increase over the capacity installed in 2015. The $23 billion U.S. solar market now has installed more than 42 GW of solar, which is enough to power over 8 million average-sized American homes. Solar's growth trajectory and increasing market share continue to excite electricity producers and consumers alike.

Yet, despite this success, PV manufacturing is not an industry for the faint of heart. Recent growth in solar power's market penetration was enabled by intense competition and rapidly declining module prices. From 2013 to 2016, average PV module prices fell by 51%. At the same time, manufacturers faced changing and varied policies, new advances in manufacturing, and the coinciding variations in demand conditions. Market participants have come and gone, merged and re-organized, won market share and lost it. What has resulted is a landscape of lean, technologically advanced, and still-striving PV manufacturers.

A map of solar manufacturing capacity in the United States reveals major manufacturing clusters in the Northwest and Great Lakes regions.

The Clean Energy Manufacturing Analysis Center's (CEMAC) map of 2016 year-end solar manufacturing capacity in the United States. Some bars, which represent firm-level capacity, are split into segments with each segment representing a unique firm. Note that production may vary significantly from manufacturing capacity.

The United States is one of the largest manufacturers of polysilicon, a fundamental material in PV that is exported to wafer manufacturers around the world. Across the entire solar supply chain—polysilicon, wafers, cells, and modules—there are around 40 active manufacturing locations in the United States, constituting an annual module-manufacturing capacity of around 2.8 GW. While manufacturing activity is occurring across the country in states like Massachusetts, Michigan, and Georgia, the Pacific Northwest is home to some of the largest manufacturers at each step of the supply chain. In Moses Lake, Washington, REC Silicon maintains approximately 20,000 tons of polysilicon production capacity, while Panasonic has approximately 50 megawatts (MW) of solar capacity in wafers in Salem, Oregon, and SolarWorld has approximately 500 MW of capacity in modules and cells in Hillsboro, Oregon.

Over the next few years, the American PV manufacturing landscape is set to see exciting changes. Chief among them is a Tesla and Panasonic collaboration in Buffalo, NY that is expected to bring 1 GW of module and cell production capacity online by 2019. The industry is also realizing the benefits of many programs designed to hasten the development of innovative solar energy technology. The U.S. Department of Energy's SunShot Initiative has made investments in innovative PV manufacturing methods, like 1366 Technologies' kerfless wafering process which can drive down the cost of manufacturing a silicon wafer by 50%. This still evolving technology could soon yield even greater cost savings for the solar industry.

CEMAC has many exciting projects in the works, intended to continually build and maintain a deep understanding of clean energy manufacturing in the United States and abroad. Of note to solar industry stakeholders is a recently published update to CEMAC's benchmarking of global clean energy, which provides industry-level manufacturing data and analysis to assess industry progress and identify opportunities for future development. Additionally, CEMAC analysts are currently working on a project to build a better understanding of the factors that foster thriving manufacturing environments for the solar industry.

Learn more about CEMAC and the Energy Department's SunShot Initiative.