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Can we restore U.S. leadership in solar manufacturing?

The United States created the solar cell industry and literally launched it into space 50 years ago.   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” (see “Invented here, sold there”).

Graph illustrating the relative portion the United States has contributed to annual world productionBut thanks to conservative opposition to clean energy from Reagan to the Gingrich Congress to Cheney/Bush, the U.S. share of the PV market has plummeted.  By 2008, America had under 6% (!) of the world market (see AllBusiness’s “United States is a bit player in global solar industry“).

Now the Department of Energy is taking steps to improve the domestic manufacturing base, as guest blogger Jacob Abraham, an intern with CAP’s Energy Opportunity team, reports.

dow-solar-shingles-powerhouseBusinesses are stepping up to the plate to harness the economic opportunity that solar photovoltaics (PV) offer.  The Department of Energy reports that four new solar manufacturing plants are making their way to states around the country.  New solar manufacturing facilities will bring both jobs and solar power to Michigan, Arizona, Pennsylvania, and Oregon.

Dow Chemical Company launched its solar project in Midland, Michigan earlier this month to launch its first full-scale Powerhouse solar shingle facility, which will help homeowners reduce electricity costs and green their homes using innovative solar shingles.  Michigan Economic Development Corporation (MEDC) just announced that it will award Dow Chemical $61.3 million in tax credits over 15 years to be used in a variety of projects.  Dow’s expansion into Michigan will create over 6,900 new jobs, and the increased funding will allow Dow to move the project up to full scale plant.  Governor Jennifer Granholm praised the clean-energy explosion:

We have worked hard to make Michigan the clean-energy capital of North America and focused our initiatives to grow these industries here.  Dow’s decisions to locate these facilities here demonstrate that our investments in green, clean-energy manufacturing are creating jobs and helping Michigan transition to a new 21st century economy.

The Arizona project, estimated to create between 30 and 120 MW of solar power per year and employ local residents of Goodyear, Arizona, is actually funded by the Chinese company Suntech Power, the world’s largest manufacturer of crystalline silicon PV modules.  Mayor Jan Brewer applauds the new plant as a crucial step toward making Arizona a leader in the clean energy economy:

I commend the company for choosing Goodyear as the site for its solar manufacturing operation.  I am very serious about establishing Arizona as a leader in the renewable energy sector — we offer a strategic location with a highly skilled workforce, low payroll taxes, and, now, the right incentive program to make business sense.

Other states, too, will gain new capacities as a result of new business incentives.  Heliosphera US plans to build a thin-film solar plant in Philadelphia’s Navy Yard using a $49 million incentive package of loans and grants provided by the State of Pennsylvania.  In Oregon, SolarWorld is bringing a new solar module assembly line to its manufacturing plant in Hillsboro, Oregon increasing the plant size 210,000-square-foot building, with the capacity to produce 350 MW of solar modules per year

These manufacturing plants come just as Obama’s Savannah speech on Tuesday promoting HOMESTAR, a program designed to incentivize home retrofitting, government funding for investment in renewables.  Just as hopes for home energy efficiency are on the upswing after President, Americans will soon be able to use products such as Dow’s Powerhouse solar shingles to retrofit their roofs, increase their energy efficiency, and cut energy costs.

With solar giants like eSolar making deals with Google, China, and the German company Ferrostaal, the industry’s capacity is growing rapidly.  Additional U.S. companies need to step up and invest, or risk being left behind. Many states and individual Americans have found ways to integrate solar power into their energy systems, and now it’s time for businesses to do the same.

JR: Ultimately, of course, The only way to win the clean energy race is to pass the clean energy bill.  As Lindsey Graham (R-SC) said earlier this year, “Every day that we delay trying to find a price for carbon is a day that China uses to dominate the green economy.”

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This article was originally posted on Climate Progress