US Solar Demand is booming despite the fact that solar installation costs are coming down at a much slower rate compared to the solar panel price decline. While solar panel prices have gone down by almost 50% y/y, the price that a homeowner in the US pays for a complete solar system has gone down by almost 7% y/y while that for a utility scale system has gone down by ~25%. This shows that US Solar Installers are benefiting the most from the decline in solar panel prices. Note valuation of the biggest US solar system integrators and financiers like Solar City is rising and its IPO is hotly anticipated. Compare this to the bankruptcy level valuation of the solar panel companies like Suntech, LDK and others.
Demand in 2011 was around 2 GW which was almost 100% greater than 2010 and it is expected to jump by another 50% to 3 GW according to mainstream analysts. However I think it will be closer to 100% growth as competition increases and solar installation starts reflecting the solar panel price crash. Utility scale systems showed a much sharper price decrease showing the difference in bargaining power between the small home system owners and the financiers of large multi MW utility scale systems.
While the US government has imposed almost 35% duty on the import of Chinese solar panels, the price increase would be to a much lesser degree given the workarounds worked out by the big Chinese solar panel producers like JA Solar, Yingli and others.
List of Major US Domestic Solar Panel Producers
Big Solar Panel Manufacturers in USA
- First Solar is the largest Solar Thin Film Manufacturer in the world and a benchmark for other thin film companies thinking of making it big. The company was promoted by Wal-Mart promoters and has seen remarkable growth in the last few. This US based company uses Cadmium Tellurium (Cd-Te) Technology and is the lowest cost panel producer in the world today if you don’t include any penalty for low efficiency. Even if you penalize the Cd-Te Technology for its lower efficiency vis-a-vis the higher efficiency crystalline technology, First Solar is clearly the leader with a core cost of 74c/watt. The company has a road map of reducing the cost to 52c/watt by 2014 and given its track record it seems quite achievable. There is little doubt about First Solar’s ability to survive and flourish due to its massive first mover advantage.
- Sunpower – Sunpower produces the highest efficiency crystalline solar panels in the world. This is a US company like First Solar and has a strong system installation business as well. An offspring of Cypress Semiconductor, it faced tough times due to its higher costs. However seems to be on a recovery path.Failed to expand as rapidly as the Asians in 2010.
- MEMC/SunEdison- The only big American solar wafer producer is building a factory in Malaysia to reduce costs. The company is one of the biggest manufacturers of semi wafers. Like GCL Poly, it is also expanding into the solar systems business without getting into cell and module production. The company has partnered with Flextronics to make solar panels in Ontario.
Small Solar Panel Manufacturers in USA
- Suniva was spun out of Georgia Institute of Technology’s University Center of Excellence in Photovoltaics (UCEP) using the work of Dr. Ajeet Rohatgi in 2007 who is the founder and director of the photovoltaic (PV) research program. Suniva produces 17+% – 20% efficient cells. Currently, Suniva is producing 20%+ in the lab, and the world’s highest commercially available cell efficiency in full-scale low-cost production.
- Miasole – Miasole made a major splash announcing a record breaking 13.8% efficiency thin film module in 2011. The company has also raised another $100 million in equity finance despite fall in its pre-IPO valuation to $550 million from $1.2 billion earlier. Seems an attractive target for a takeover.
- Nanosolar – This secretive CIGs startup has big backers in the form of Google and others. The company is planning to build a massive plant in US but till now there has been little news about its commercial shipments, efficiency or costs. Remains to be seen if it manages to succeed or joins the long list of thin film deaths.
- Abound Solar – Abound Solar which is a CdTe startup has also received a massive loan guarantee like Solyndra earlier. This money is going to be used to set up manufacturing facilities in Indiana and Colorado. Abound Solar has been heavily supported the the US government’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) and is in the process of starting a 200 MW plant in Colorado.
- Ascent Solar – This US Based Company has a long history of making Thin Film Panels on Flexible Substances. The company is trying to survive against the onslaught of competition through strategic tie-ups with a number of companies around the world which will uses its Niche Technology.
- Energy Conversion Devices – After First Solar, Energy Conversion Devices seemed the mostly likely viable c2mpany in Thin Film Technology. After a few quarters of profits in 2008, the company went into the red as its flexible a-Si modules failed to cut costs as fast as others. It has been shutting factories in the US and shifting to low cost locations. Still one of the biggest independent Thin Film Producers. Seems more likely that it will be bought out then survive independently.
- General Electric – GE has invested in a Cadmium Tellurium Startup Prime Solar which is ramping up production. Note Cd-Te is the same technology which is used by First Solar. GE has said that it has managed to attain 15% efficiency on commercial glass. Don’t know how much of it is true since First Solar only manages around 12% efficiency despite around 10 years of dedicated R&D. However if GE can even manage to get near to that level then it would surely give First Solar a run for its money. GE has also tied up with Japanese Solar Frontier to market its CIGs based modules.
- MX Solar is a Italian company that runs a 65 MW Solar Panel Production plant in New Jersey. The group also owns 2 production facilities in Italy and plans to expand in the USA. It remains to be seen whether this small company can expand when global majors are falling by the wayside.
- Global Solar Energy opened in 1996, and in 2008 finished another phase of development as it expanded its CIGS production to a new 40 MW facility in Tucson, Arizona and a second 35 MW facility in Berlin, Germany.