Sophia Chen, DIGITIMES Research, Taipei [Thursday 31 May 2012]
Compared to the solar supply chain in other countries, the US solar industry has been thriving in sectors such as polysilicon, thin-film solar products and PV inverters.
Since 2011, the solar market in the US has been plagued by bad news. The first was the fall of CIGS thin-film solar firm Solyndra, and then Evergreen Solar and Spectrawatt also filed for bankruptcies. Another thin-film solar firm, Energy Conversion Devices, filed for bankruptcy as well due to years of operating in losses.
The capacity of silicon-based solar wafer and cell in the US solar industry has been falling annually. Compared to competitors in China and Taiwan, the US solar wafer and cell makers have relatively higher production costs. As for US solar module makers, they are more focused on the development of solar PV systems rather than producing solar modules. SunPower, a US-based solar module firm, has been producing products using production lines in the Philippines.
First Solar, a US-based thin-film solar firm, has been dominating the world with its CdTe solar modules. Other thin-film solar firms have been developing innovative technologies, but uncertainties lie in turning such technologies into mass production. There are many firms in the US CIGS industry that are continuous in R&D new technologies. Nevertheless, it has been difficult for thin-film solar products to compete with silicon-based solar products. Hence, Energy Conversion Devices filed for bankruptcy in 2011.
While the US solar industry faces a wave of shutdowns, the US PV inverter industry continues to increase global market share. Since 2010, the US PV inverter industry has been enjoying rising capacities and utilization rates. In 2011, the output value of the US PV inverter industry reached around 4GW.
Despite the continuous rise of the US PV inverter firms, the industry has been affected by the falling price of solar products. The effects, however, are limited because PV inverters do not account for a large percentage of the total cost of a solar PV system. In addition, PV inverters play a central role in a system's conversion efficiency, hence customers have been less sensitive about the price of PV inverters compared to the price of solar modules.