The heady cocktail of generous federal and local government incentives and
renewable energy mandates in the United States could create a new manufacturing hub in a country that often talks about losing manufacturing jobs to Asia.
In fact, cell and solar panel manufacturing capacity is likely to grow roughly 50 percent annually between 2008 and 2012, said Shyam Mehta, senior analyst at GTM Research, Tuesday at Intersolar North America in San Francisco.
The U.S. market demand for solar panels could grow from 342 megawatts in 2008 to 2.13 gigawatts in 2012, he added. That appetite is driving companies such as SolarWorld and Schott Solar, both in Germany, and Japan's Sanyo to set up factories in the United States.
The country produced 499 megawatts of solar panels in 2008, 70 percent of which were thin-film panels. Ninety percent of those thin films came from factories owned by First Solar and United Solar Ovonic.
Mehta, who provided some key figures from his upcoming report on photovoltaic manufacturing in the United States, predicted that the country will likely be able to produce more than 2.7 gigawatts of cells, as well as panels, by 2012.
Thin-film manufacturing would play a big role in the growth. By 2012, 66 percent of the factory capacity would be devoted to making thin-film panels, including those that use cadmium-telluride, amorphous silicon and copper-indium-gallium-selenide (CIGS).
CIGS companies are likely to expand their production capacity from 32 megawatts in 2007 to about 1.3 gigawatts in 2012, Mehta said. His bullish outlook, which he expressed previously, has raised eyebrows because most of the CIGS companies in the United States are in early stages of commercial production.
Mehta argued that it would only take a few successful CIGS companies out of the current crop of eight to 10 businesses to make a significant contribution to the solar market in 2012. He conceded that tough challenges remain for these companies to be able to mass-produce products at competitive costs.
He expects a big boost for producing crystalline silicon solar panels. The factory capacity devoted to making this type of solar panels could expand from 389 megawatts in 2008 to about 1.23 gigawatts in 2012.