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US shipment of solar modules jumps 13-fold in less than a decade

The shipment of solar electric cells and modules in the United States is close to one million peak kilowatts, compared with 77,000 kW in 1999.

Annual industry data released by the Department of Energy show that shipments of PV in 2008 reached 986,504 kW, comprised of 586,558 kW of imports and 462,252 kW of exports. There were 66 companies involved in the survey behind ‘Solar Photovoltaic Cell / Module Manufacturing Activities 2008.'

In 1999, 19 companies shipped 76,787 kW, of which 4,784 kW were imports and 55,585 kW in exports. The total shipments in 2008 were up 90% from levels reported in 2007.

“This surge in growth was partly due to the 30% federal investment tax credit for commercial photovoltaic projects and the 30% investment tax credit, capped at US$2,000 for residential photovoltaic projects, set to expire on December 31, 2008,” the report explains. “In response, the solar industry rushed to complete projects by the end of 2008 as the deadline for the investment tax credits drew near.”

In October 2008, President Obama signed the Emergency Economic Stabilization Act of 2008 into law, which extends the 30% solar investment tax credits for eight years until 2016. The Act also eliminates the US$2,000 cap on residential PV installations and allows public utilities to claim the solar investment tax credits.

The number of active PV manufacturers or importers that ship PV cells and modules increased 43% from 46 companies in 2007 to 66 in 2008, which is “one indication that the emerging solar market has become attractive to investors desiring to start or expand businesses in this market.” Of these companies, 20 expect to introduce crystalline silicon products, 11 plan to introduce new thin-film products, and two expect to provide new concentrator photovoltaic products in 2009, which indicates that “many companies believe that stronger government support in the United States will fuel new market expansion.”

Employment in PV-related activities increased 82% from 6,170 person-years (PY) in 2007 to 11,245 PY in 2008. This compares with 19 companies providing 2,013 PV of employment in 1999.

In 2008, the average conversion efficiency for crystalline silicon (single-crystal) PV was 19%, 14% for cast, 13% for ribbon, 8% for thin-film (amorphous silicon) PV, 12% for thin-film CdTe or CIGS, and 34% for concentrator PV cell/module.

Revenue for the US industry doubled in one year, from US$1.7 billion in 2007 to US$3.3 bn in 2008, even though the average price went only from US$3.37 per peak watt for modules and US$2.22 for cells in 2007, to US$3.49 and US$1.94 respectively in 2008.

Although the market for thin-film modules has grown steadily for many years, crystalline silicon continues to dominate the PV industry and accounted for 67% of total shipments in 2008, the report notes. The easing shortage of raw high-purity silicon contributed to a doubling of crystalline silicon shipments but crystalline silicon “still faces a long-term downward trend in market share of previous years. In response to demand and competition, many crystalline silicon cell and module manufacturers have been working to minimize the use of silicon, increase efficiency, and decrease manufacturing cost. This will put the emerging thin-film manufacturers under pressure to compete given their inherently lower efficiency product line.”

During 2008, the number of shipments of complete PV systems increased to 20,025 from 10,600 in 2007, with the total value of complete systems increasing 154% to US$1.25 billion. The peak rating of complete systems shipped surged from 80,560 kW to 202,632 kW in 2008, which indicates “companies are becoming more involved in developing larger PV systems with high demand and market growth potential.”

The Energy Information Administration is the statistical analysis agency of the US Department of Energy. The reported data on PV cells and modules is derived from manufacturing shipment information for terrestrial use only; shipments intended for applications in space programs (satellites, etc) are excluded.

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Photovoltaics (PV)  •  Solar electricity