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Solar PV Market Doubled to 6 Gigawatts in 2008 — U.S. Left in Dust, Having Invented the Technology
Joe Romm, 18 Mar 09


After growing 19% in 2006 and 62% in 2007, world solar photovoltaic (PV) market installations exploded by 110% last year to a staggering 5.95 GW, according to Solarbuzz’s Annual Report, Marketbuzz 2009:

Europe accounted for 82% of world demand in 2008. Spain’s 285% growth pushed Germany into second place in the market ranking, while the US advanced to [a very distant] number three. Rapid growth in Korea allowed it to become the fourth largest market, closely followed by Italy and Japan.

And who is the leading producer of PV cells?

China and Taiwan continued to increase their share of global solar cell production, rising to 44% in 2008 from 35% in 2007.

Yes, the United States created the solar cell industry and literally launched it into space 50 years ago. And, yes, solar PV is going to be one of the largest job-creating industries of the century, projected to grow “from a $20 billion industry in 2007 to $74 billion by 2017.”

And, yes, today America has precisely zero of the top ten PV plants (down from 1 last year), with our market share having plummeted in the past decade, as the figure below makes all too painfully clear:

Graph illustrating the relative portion the United States has contributed to annual world production. The world shipments increased to a record high of 1194 MW during 2004, more than a 35-fold increase since 1989. The largest annual increase in U.S. production since data has been collected, a 60% increase, occurred between 2003 and 2004.  U.S. production reached a record of more than 139 MW in 2004.

But don’t get all friggin’ sentimental on me. Think of the few billion dollars U.S. taxpayers saved because:

The fundamental tenets of conservative ideology say that if countries like China and Taiwan and Spain make most of the PV cells, it must be because they have an inherent “comparative” advantage over us. You gotta start reading your Ricardo, people.

Any card-carrying conservative knows that if other countries manage to get millions of their workers’ hands dirty actually making stuff, it’s only because they are better at it. We’re still the brainiacs who invent the technologies first and then wisely save a few pennies of the taxpayer dollars not promoting American technologies into billion-dollar American industries. We’ve still got all those Internet-related jobs, and it’s not like the government had anything to do with that.

So please, all you progressives and enviros out there, stop your whining. The plan is unfolding as it should, indeed as it must. Do not argue with the invisible hand. People will think you’re crazy.

Sure those thin films look cool. They seem like something that could generate a lot of jobs for a high-tech, high wage economy.


More seriously, it will be interesting to see whether significant incentives and real requirements for renewable energy at a national level can restore some semblance of US leadership.

Although growth is sure to slow this year, it does seem like PV is make it a real race with the other solar energy, Concentrated solar thermal power Solar Baseload.

Hat tip SET Energy.

This piece originally appeared on Climate Progress

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Are you sure that "America has precisely zero of the top ten PV plants"? A giant solar cell plant just opened recently in Hillsboro, Oregon.

Posted by: Dave C. on 20 Mar 09

I just spoke to the regional manager of a large Florida Utility that has a filled- up FIT program just underway. It has started well.
However I am somewhat dismayed by the attitude that "you must buy a complete installation from a commercial vendor for $30,000" before we will talk to you.
I reckon that those in this as-yet tiny business don't want any newcomers to compete.
Also the idea that giant utilities will run the enterpreneurs out of business asap to dominate the market. Remember where we are now with Big Oil?

Posted by: dacarls on 27 Mar 09

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