The Solar Power World May 2022 Digital Edition is sponsored by CPS North America | Chint Power Global
The thin line between ambition and delusion
Reporting on the U.S. solar module manufacturing market often leads to an internal tug of war — can I be cautiously hopeful that manufacturing capacity will increase, or should I call out new company names making unrealistic promises?
It’s the same story I’ve been covering the last 10 years — very few solar modules are made in the United States even though the U.S. solar market is consistently in the Top 3 in the world. The demand is obviously here, but a decade of back-and-forth tariffs with China has pushed manufacturing overseas, predominantly to Southeast Asia. Now, a 2022 tariff circumvention investigation combined with global supply issues, lingering COVID-19 restrictions and a war in Ukraine has further hindered the United States from establishing a booming domestic manufacturing industry.
But companies continue to claim they’re investing in U.S. manufacturing. Some announcements are more realistic than others, like Maxeon saying it wants to open a 3-GW cell and module plant in America but waiting on favorable legislation with manufacturing tax credits. Other claims, like Jordanian installation company Philadelphia Solar, which says it’s shopping a 1-GW plant stateside, are met with raised eyebrows and questionable looks.
But even the sure bets are hitting speed bumps. Heterojunction technology manufacturing giant Meyer Burger bought a building and started hiring in Goodyear, Arizona, for a 400-MW solar panel assembly facility. But then the company announced that it was going to instead increase its manufacturing capacity in Germany because supply chain interruptions and global unrest are making new expansion plans unattainable right now. So, the Arizona plant and the small increase in domestic manufacturing capacity are now stalled.
If a German company that actually knows how to make panels can’t get set up in the United States, where are we supposed to put our faith? In Congress passing pro-domestic-manufacturing legislation? We’ll see.
It’s going to be a busy summer as we wait on government decisions that will affect the U.S. solar industry for years to come. I’m going to continue to be optimistic that many companies’ ambitious plans to boost domestic solar manufacturing will eventually pan out. Or else we might all be delusional.