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

Ann All

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.

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Oct 23, 2008 11:41 AM Chris Chris  says:
SunPower, the large, publicly traded solar-panel maker based in San Jose, manufacturers its solar panels in the Philippines, where it made about 100 megawatts worth in 2007.And how exactly is that going to INCREASE JOBS in the USA?!? I work at a silicon foundry that is slowly transitioning from semiconductor grade to solar grade. The results have been a REDUCTION in workforce not an increase! The difference between mfg semiconductor to solar grade silicon would be akin to the difference between open heart surgery and kissing a boo-boo better. One requires a high degree of precision and knowledge, sterile equipment to prevent inclusion of foreign matter, and a clear plan with foreknowledge of how it is expected to perform once done. All performed by a dedicated team with years of knowledge. You know how we make solar silicon? I hope this isn't a trade secret but, we take everything that isn't good enough to be used in semiconductors and melt it all down with a glorified susy bake oven and ship it. An alternative is to break it up into smaller chunks and let them melt it in their own giant cake pans. Semiconductors have very stringent operating parameters that require constant monitoring throughout an exhaustive multi-step process to guarantee it's performance that solar just doesn't... However it IS good for the corporate bottom line since it doesn't really require many people by comparison. Reply
Mar 11, 2009 12:08 PM Bob C Bob C  says: in response to Chris

Chris, I am a vetern of semiconductor manufacturing. 20 years making chips from the initial OX layer to the topside layer. Up untill AMD shut it's doors on 3 plants in 2002. But i digress. The SC plants that are low on product and have tools sitting idle, can manufacture solar wafers easily. Your post is accurate but frankly, I can have the ave JOE running a poly dope furnace after 1 day of training, so while the design of SC manufacturing is complicated, anyone can pust the "go" button on the tool. They still need a clean room, and the SC industry could assist the solar industry to better create ARC films that capture more light and larger photons, increasing their effectivness. You work at a foundry, not in a fab. Just my opinion.


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