US PV industry must grow at home before expanding abroad

The US photovoltaics (PV) industry must exploit opportunities provided by utility deregulation in its home market if it is to compete with the European and Japanese PV industries, industry leaders have said in a report.

The US PV industry has published a draft ‘Roadmap’ outlining goals and strategies for the US PV industry until 2020. Solar-cell manufacturers and suppliers see PV producing at least 15 percent of the additional electrical power the US will need in 2020.

Allen Barnett, president of PV manufacturer AstroPower , stresses the importance of creating a substantial domestic market and this, he says, depends on the PV industry becoming attractive to investors. A history of steady technology improvements and industry growth of 15-20 percent a year is a good start, but the roadmap calls for 25 percent yearly growth over the next 20 years. At that rate, the industry will approach $10 billion a year, creating tens of thousands of jobs and significant environmental benefits.

Most of the industry’s markets now are outside the US, Barnett points out. While the US PV industry is a world leader in research, technology and manufacturing, it faces strong competition from Europe and Japan.

“The fastest growing market segment is for applications that connect directly into the electricity grid in Europe and Japan,” Barnett said. “The driver in Europe is concern for the environment. The will of the people has been translated into favourable government policy. In Japan, the driver is concern for the environment and energy independence.”

Barnett, a member of the National Center for Photovoltaics (NCPV) Advisory Board and PV Roadmap Steering Committee told edie that the US has been slow to pick up on PV because politicians are not aware of the strength of public support for alternative forms of energy generation. “I don’t think any group is anti-PV, but much of energy policy in the US is set by Congressional members from oil states who want to protect the industries in those states. Having said that, I don’t think chequebooks are driving Government policy, it’s more a matter of perception: people just aren’t listening to the details of the argument for PV. It’s an education issue and we have to work harder.”

Barnett said that utility deregulation provides an opportunity to create solid demand at home. He said that the US PV industry must first have access to the kind of green incentives enjoyed by Japanese and European companies if the Americans are to compete effectively. “If the US could get those incentives, this would accelerate worldwide growth as well,” Barnett added.

The Roadmap details four major goals:

  • maintain the US industry’s technological leadership
  • achieve economic competitiveness with conventional energy technologies
  • maintain a sustained market and PV production growth
  • make the PV industry profitable and attractive to investors

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