News & Views

Solar Power Fights For It’s Place In the US

By Mark Norfolk on Sunday, October 17th, 2010

Los Angeles, California hosted the Solar Power International convention this week (October 19-21, 2010), and if attendance and vendor participation is a barometer of the industry’s health, then it would appear alive and well. But is it? The immediate observation is the dearth of US manufacturers of photovoltaic (PV) panels. China has bought this market and is gaining ground in the concentrating solar industry. The over capacity present in this market is driving costs down and pressuring US manufacturers to improve productivity and output (megawatts) for their existing lines. That said, the number of US-based rack mounting system manufacturers and installers was impressive, if not itself an overcrowded market. But, if there was any pessimism on the PV side, the booth staffers didn’t show it.


I had an interesting lunchtime talk with a gentleman from a California electric utility that expressed their reluctance to add more than absolutely required by law to their renewable energy portfolio. At just about 1% of their total supply, he saw adding no more than a few more megawatts in the coming years. In his opinion, there was no substitute for a gas-fired power plant. Add in the permitting issues, the “NIMBY” protests, and scheduled cleaning and maintenance the ROI was a tough sell to them. He did say their installed base has proven reliable for 10+ years with only a small drop off in efficiency and output.


So how do we make this industry work in the US? Production costs need to drop to bring parity with traditionally produced electricity. This won’t be easy and it won’t happen without help from the government to encourage more widespread use. Let’s face it, the playing field is not level, and our competition have economies of scale and a favorable labor rate.

EWI is helping the solar industry to bring costs down by helping our members optimize soldering and bonding processes at various points in the manufacturing line. We are working on nondestructive testing methods that can be implemented in-line to verify more quickly that what is being made will last through the 25 year warranty period. EWI’s expertise in metals and nonmetals, testing, and modeling works well in this market. How can we help you?


Posted by:

Kevin Arnold, PE
EWI Energy Center

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