Is the U.S. finally ready for solar?

MUNICH, GERMANY--“In other countries around the world, governments have stepped in and spurred the growth of their renewables industries, but so far the U.S. has done this on a very limited basis, led mostly by state-based efforts, and the consequence is a market that is behind in terms of renewable energy growth,” said John Antone, Sr. VP of marketing for Energy and Environmental Solutions at Applied Materials

Jun 1st, 2009

MUNICH, GERMANY--“In other countries around the world, governments have stepped in and spurred the growth of their renewables industries, but so far the U.S. has done this on a very limited basis, led mostly by state-based efforts, and the consequence is a market that is behind in terms of renewable energy growth,” said John Antone, Sr. VP of marketing for Energy and Environmental Solutions at Applied Materials (AMAT; Santa Clara, CA; www.appliedmaterials.com). Antone’s message echoed the emphasis of a press conference held during Intersolar 2009 (May 27–29 in Munich) organized by Applied and the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA; www.seia.org) to show how new policies are expected to translate into growth within the U.S. solar market.

“The purpose of our press event was to provide a very clear roadmap to policy makers around the world about how to drive more affordable, renewable solar energy generation in their countries, particularly the U.S.--using our European experience as a solid starting place,” said Winfried Hoffman, CTO of Energy and Enviromental Solutions at AMAT, and VP of the European Photovoltaic Industry Association (EPIA).

“Both Applied and the SEIA see huge potential for the U.S. to be a leader in developing solar energy solutions, creating an entire ecosystem of manufacturing, technology, and solar-related jobs over the next five years,” said Antone. “It’s just going to take some vision and policy making leadership to help solar scale now, which will deliver ongoing cost reductions for a long time in the future.”

The press conference, held on May 28, included presentations by Antone, Hoffman, and Rhone Resch, president, SEIA. “Applied is a member of SEIA and the two organizations are committed to increasing the economic and environmental value of solar by promoting key legislation,” reinforced Resch. Applied is the leading provider of photovoltaic manufacturing equipment in the world and provides equipment solutions for both thin-film silicon and crystalline silicon solar PV panel manufacturing. Applied’s solar customers are worldwide and it is currently ramping 14 thin-film production lines, called SunFab, in seven countries on two continents. AMAT also supplies equipment to the world’s top 15 wafering and crystalline silicon panels makers.”

According to Resch, SEIA is the leading trade association for the solar energy industry in the U.S. Its mission is to help expand solar markets, strengthen research and development, and improve education and outreach for solar energy professionals. Recent successes of SEIA include the eight-year extension and expansion of investment tax credits for solar, creation of the Department of Energy grant program, and expansion of the loan guarantee program for renewable energy.

Politics and technology

“Applied believes that cost of solar generation coupled with the realities of the need for U.S. economic development and a rapid transition from an almost complete reliance on fossil fuel energy generation is creating a huge opportunity for growth in solar,” says Antone. “We believe that the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) provides substantive support for solar. For example, the Investment Tax Credit (ITC), which was expanded to include eligibility for utilities along with various financing provisions such as a $6 billion dollar loan guarantee for renewable energy projects, is a key factor that will promote strong growth of the solar industry in the U.S.”

According to solar industry market research company SolarBuzz (San Francisco, CA; www.solarbuzz.com), the U.S. PV market grew by 62% from 220 MW in 2007 to 375 MW in 2008. Cumulative U.S. installed capacity is 1216 MW. However, in its “World PV Industry Report Summary” dated March 16, 2009, SolarBuzz showed that this 375 MW or roughly 0.38 GW 2008 U.S. solar PV market installations number was only a tiny fraction of the overall 5.95 GW worldwide installations figure for 2008. That tiny number should also be contrasted with 2.46 GW for Spain and 1.86 GW for Germany. Sadder still, the U.S. lags in solar-cell production behind China, then Europe, then Japan--with China showing the greatest market share and growth gains since 2004.

Despite the obvious obstacle and history of solar in the U.S., Antone says, “Applied Materials and its innovative customers are making significant progress towards making solar an affordable and scalable alternative to traditional sources of energy. We are working diligently with our customers on improvements in PV efficiency and reducing costs--all key factors in making solar a real part of our world’s energy generation portfolio. With our suite of equipment offerings for crystalline silicon and thin film we provide our customers with the ability to rapidly scale their manufacturing operations and reduce production costs.”

Get involved

“Solar makes sense for the U.S. in so many ways,” says Antone. “From an economic perspective, solar adds valuable jobs to our local communities. From an environmental perspective, solar is a clean and abundant energy source and a viable offset to traditional sources of energy.” Applied Materials says it is committed to the long-term development and success of this industry and encourages readers of Optoelectronics Report to get involved. “Learn more about benefits of solar and ask your state representatives about their plans to leverage its economic and environmental benefits.”

--Gail Overton

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