The story of solar manufacturing in the U.S. often focuses on the PV supply chain. Since last October, the ongoing investigation into alleged PV product dumping by Chinese manufacturers has only intensified the attention given to the U.S.' PV cell and module manufacturing market. Lost in the shuffle is the comparatively tiny – but compelling and competitive – U.S. solar thermal equipment manufacturing market.
First, any discussion of U.S.-based manufacturing, including thermal equipment manufacturing, must include the caveat that the definitions of ‘made in the U.S.’ and ‘manufactured’ are often debated among industry players. At what point in the supply chain must the fabrication of the product in question take place on U.S. soil? Does a collector assembled from China-derived components ‘count,’ for instance?
In any case, however, the numbers are solid: The U.S. is a net exporter of solar heating and cooling equipment, according to data from the Solar Energy Industries Association. A full 79% of solar water heating components in the U.S. market are sourced domestically.
These statistics are a point of pride in the industry. ‘One of the few technologies we're export-Âpositive with is thermal’ notes Andrew East, executive vice president at AET Solar.
U.S. policy provisions in recent years have helped attract even thermal companies that have historically manufactured their products offshore. For instance, Apricus' primary facility is in Nanjing, China. But the company has also set up U.S. manufacturing facilities in order to enable its AP-30C collector to comply with Buy American requirements, says Nigel Ruddell, vice president of sales.
Adam Farrell, CEO of SunMaxx Solar, says that U.S.-based collector manufacturing has long been dominated by a few companies with relatively unchanging technologies. The arrival of new entrants will stimulate increased innovation and better products.
‘Once the market grows, we will see a lot more competition,’ he predicts.
This Sun Dial column was originally published in the March 2012 issue of Solar Industry.
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