Solar Could Offer Bright Outlook for U.S. Manufacturing Jobs


Solar power may not just help us save the environment. It also may help the U.S. save manufacturing jobs, or generate new ones.


As MercuryNews.com reports, global companies in attendance at the recent Solar Power International conference were feeling positive about the burgeoning U.S. market, thanks to the nation's abundant amounts of land and sun, commitment to solar power by high-profile companies like Google, and the recent passage of an eight-year extension of a solar tax credit and a lifting of the tax cap on residential projects.


Solar World opened a factory in Hillsboro, Ore., which has the capacity to make 500 megawatts worth of solar cells by 2011. The German company says the facility will employ 1,000 people. Says Anna Schneider, a Solar World spokeswoman:

We believe strongly that you can manufacture these technologies in the U.S.

Steven Chan, chief strategy officer and president of global sales and marketing for China-based Suntech, calls the U.S. "potentially the largest future market" for solar technology. The company has expanded its U.S. workforce from five to 50 and is looking to staff up even more. It has purchased one U.S. company and entered into a joint venture with another. Chan says the company may open manufacturing facilities in the U.S., Mexico or Europe within five years.


SunPower, the large, publicly traded solar-panel maker based in San Jose, manufactures its solar panels in the Philippines, but several Silicon Valley start-ups, including Solyndra and Nanosolar, manufacture solar cells in California. Solyndra's CEO cites "talent, investment, innovation and just a different drive for the way things are done" as reasons for locating in Fremont. The company is building a second facility in California.


Other solar companies that are expanding their presence in North America include Sharp, Germany's Schott Solar, Q-Cells and First Solar. Although Sharp produces most of its solar cells in Japan, it began manufacturing some in Memphis, Tenn., in 2003 and just upped that facility's annual output from 60 to 100 megawatts of panels. Says Ron Kenedi, vice president of the Sharp Solar Energy Solutions Group:

There's tremendous growth potential for solar in the United States.

Among the companies that are incorporating solar power into their new data centers are Microsoft, which used solar panels at a $550 million, 477,000-square-foot data center near San Antonio, Texas, and Emerson Network Power, which is including a 100-kilowatt solar array that will yield enough energy to power 14 percent of the facility at a new 35,000-square-foot data center in St. Louis.