[IN-DEPTH] Sun peeks through in solar

Overseas suppliers trounce U.S. panel makers, but installations soaring

By Ryan Tracy and Cassandra Sweet

The Wall Street Journal

The solar-power business is expanding quickly in the U.S., helping lift the cloud that has surrounded the industry since the demise of Solyndra LLC a year ago.

But the growth isn’t coming from U.S. solar-panel manufacturing, despite the money and rhetoric devoted to the industry by the Obama administration. Instead, it is in installations of largely foreign-made panels, whose falling price has made solar more competitive with other forms of power.

“There should be little emphasis put on where the panels are made,” said Lyndon Rive, chief executive of SolarCity Corp., which finances and installs rooftop solar systems. “Most of the jobs are in delivery and they’re long-term, permanent jobs.”

The U.S. is on pace to install as much solar power this year as it did in this century’s entire first decade: at least 2,500 megawatts, the equivalent of more than two nuclear-power plants. The U.S. added about 742 megawatts of solar capacity in the second quarter, or enough to power about 150,000 homes, the Solar Energy Industries Association said in a report scheduled for release Monday.

The price gap with traditional power sources is shrinking fast. When President Jimmy Carter installed a solar-powered water-heating system at the White House in the late 1970s, solar panels cost about $15 per watt of electricity generated, or about $50 in current dollars, according to GTM Research, a consulting firm that co-wrote the new report. Now they average about 84 cents a watt.

The decline suggests that solar power could play a significant role in U.S. power generation, although the industry still relies on favorable state and federal policies. States such as California have created subsidies for solar-power developers and established requirements for utilities to buy solar power and other renewable energy in an effort to cut greenhouse-gas emissions and fight climate change.


If interested in discussing energy matters, you can contact Court Rich, director of Rose Law Group’s Renewable Energy Implementation Department, crich@roselawgroup.com


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September 2012