While US Solar Installers are expanding rapidly as solar power grows at a rapid pace across the country, the Sunshine state Florida refuses to adopt legislation to promote solar energy. The state has less than 5% of the country’s total solar power capacity and managed to installed just 3 MW of solar power, a state like New Jersey installed around 176 MW in the first quarter of 2012. The drastic fall in solar panel prices has made solar power much more affordable leading to a sharp spurt in demand around the world. However Florida has not adopted any legislation to promote the use of solar energy even failing to adopt a Renewable Energy Standard of 20% by 2020. Note most countries in the world have adopted some sort of RES, even poor countries like India also have mandates to install 15% of their capacity from renewable energy.
- 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 roadmap 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 which it will ship in 2011. The company has also raised another $100 million in equity finance despite fall in its pre-IPO valution 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 Start-up 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
International/Foreign Solar Panel Manufacturers in USA
- Sharp the Japanese Zaibatsu known more for its Electronics Products is also the world’s No 1 Company in terms Solar Module Revenues. Despite its leadership in c-Si Technology, it has shifted focus to a-Si thin film due to higher costs. Sharp has started shipping a-Si modules from its 1 GW capacity plant in Sakai. With its established distribution strengths and technological abilities in LCD Technology, Sharp is one company that can survive the c-Si onslaught. With most of the a-Si thin film competitors bankrupt or in a moribund state,Sharp can capitalize to completely capture this space. However the cost structure of Sharp is not clearly known right now to make a clear call on how this will turn out. Also a 10% efficiency while decent for a-Si technology fall far short of the 13% claims by CIGS start-ups like Miasole.
- Panasonic/Sanyo – Sanyo is the producer of high efficiency solar panels and like Sharp sells mostly in Japan and USA. With buyout by Panasonic is looking to sell integrated energy efficiency/energy storage/solar energy home solution.
- Suntech was the world’s biggest producer of solar panels in 2010 and was one the first companies to set up operations in China. Its example was followed by a host of other Chinese companies. Suntech has been slow to expand compared to the fast growing small companies in China and has lost marketshare to them. It has started to vertically integrate in order to meet the low cost challenge from Trina and Yingli. The company has opened a small 30 MW factory in the USA which it plans to expand.
- Solarworld – Biggest German producer of solar panels, the company is one of the few to still have operations in Europe and USA. The company has been battered by low cost competition. The company operates production facilities in Germany, Sweden and the USA. In California the largest production site in the USA for solar modules and in Oregon the largest production site in the USA for solar wafers and cells are being created. The company has now closed the solar module production citing the tough competition from Chinese solar panels.
US Anti-Duping Policy
The US government recently imposed anti-dumping duties against the Chinese solar panel companies with the total quantum of duties to reach around 35-36% for most the Tier 1 Chinese solar panel players. This is more than what was expected by the solar industry and has led to a vociferous protest from sections of the Chinese government. Not surprisingly, a large chunk of the USA Solar Industry too has protested these duties. Many of the solar companies are in the installation segment where cheaper solar panels from China means more profits and more sales. What is not very well known outside the solar industry is that a major percentage of sales of US polysilicon companies and solar equipment firms goes to China. US Polysilicon Companies like Hemlock as well as factories of European companies like Wacker, REC fear the worst. Chinese polysilicon companies have closed down due to their higher costs due to stiff competition from non-Chinese players. The Chinese government has a big reason to retaliate against the US solar poly companies now that its solar panel organizations have been hit. The overall effect of the duties on Chinese solar panel companies will not be that big as they already have plans to circumvent the US duties which have been prepared long time ago.
Solar Trade Wars are becoming the norm in the globe these days with the major one between USA and China. The instigator is the German solar company Solarworld which helped start the ITC Case in the USA. Chinese solar panel producers have swamped the world with super cheap solar modules. though a part of their low prices can be explained by competitive advantage, another part is due to the labor, capital subsidy given by the Chinese government.