Thinking outside the module Thinking outside the module
By Kate Bachman, Editor
Solyndra’s implosion and Ever- green Solar’sexitfromthe U.S. in early 2011 to China may
prompt North American manufacturers
to abandon ambitions to get into the
solar energy industry as suppliers.
As everyone from Portland, Ore., to
Portland, Maine, to Portland, Texas,
has heard by now, despite Solyndra’s
highly regarded product and a $550
billion loan, it could not compete with
China’s state-sponsored underwriting
of its solar energy manufacturers, its
freely lending banking system, and the
resulting low-cost panels.
As Evergreen’s president and CEO
Michael El-Hillow said, in defending
his decision to defect to China, “Solar
manufacturers in China have received
considerable government and financial
support and, together with their low
manufacturing costs, have become
price leaders within the industry.”
On the surface, it may appear that
the barrier to entry in the solar energy
segment is too high to hurdle.
Many North American manufacturers
have gotten into the solar energy industry as suppliers either by manufacturing
the nonpanel components of a solar energy system, called the balance of system (BOS), or by making some rather
imaginative, even radical alternatives
to the standard crystalline silicon photovoltaic (PV) modules.
In many cases, they have gained
competitive advantage by redesigning
or remanufacturing the products to reduce their costs, improve energy efficiencies, and expedite time to market.
U.S. a Net Exporter
Indeed, according to a repor t conducted
by GTM Research for the Solar Energy
Industries Association (SEIA), “The U.S.
was a significant net exporter of solar
products in 2010, including to China.
“Exports totaled more than $5.6 billion, with PV polysilicon feedstock and
capital equipment leading at $2.5 billion and $1.4 billion, respectively,” the
U.S. Solar Energy Trade Assessment
2011 report said.
Meanwhile, U.S. imports of PV products totaled $3.7 billion, most of which
were modules assembled in China and
Mexico. The trade balance is a positive
one of nearly $2 billion.
“Until now, the finished module was
the industry’s benchmark for judging
the health of the PV manufacturing sector,” said Shayle Kann, managing director of solar at GTM Research.