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Solar Energy Products a Bright Spot for the U.S.

It's easy to be discouraged by the progress of renewable energy in the U.S. After all, there are a number of recent reports documenting China's aggressive investment in clean energy, while policy uncertainty in the states has fueled a doomsday forecast for the industry here. But fear not. The U.S. is net exporter of solar energy products -- for a total of $723 million in 2009 -- according to a new report prepared by GTM Research for the Solar Energy Industries Association.

The key phrase here is solar products, which means the entire value chain including installation labor, permitting, site preparation and legal costs. Nearly half of the revenue generated by solar projects comes from these soft costs.The analysis also measured early stages of solar installation such as the source of polysilicon.

So what does this all mean? For one, the solar industry is more balanced than the overall U.S. economy; and U.S. solar installation created more value domestically than previously thought. In some subsectors, like polysilicon, the U.S. is dominating.

Highlights from the report:

  • The largest solar energy product export is polysilicon, the feedstock for crystalline silicon photovoltaics. The U.S. exported $1.1 billion worth of polysilicon in 2009.
  • The U.S. imported $1.2 billion in photovoltaic modules and exported $1 billion, meaning we had a net import of about $200 million in PV modules;
  • 2009 U.S. solar energy installations created a combined $3.6 billion in direct value, of which $2.6 billion, or 74 percent, stayed in the U.S.
  • Total U.S. imports of PV products (that's the polysilicon, wafers, cells, modules and inverters) in 2009 were $1.6 billion. The largest importers were China, with $430 million, and Mexico with $349 million worth of imports.
  • Total U.S. exports of PV systems were $2.3 billion. The U.S. exported the largest amount to Germany ($686 million), following by Japan ($409 million) and China ($280 million).
Photo from Solar City