U.S. solar exports outweigh imports by nearly $2 billion in 2010

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U.S. solar exports outweigh imports by nearly $2 billion in 2010Once again, the U.S. solar industry is showing its vitality to the U.S. A new report, conducted by GTM Research for the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA), found that in 2010, the U.S. exported a total of $5.6 billion in solar goods. Meanwhile it imported a total of $3.8 billion in solar goods, for a net export gain of $1.9 billion.

The research conducted in the study took into consideration a wide range of factors beyond just photovoltaic module exports and imports.

“It is a comprehensive analysis of trade flows and domestic value creation in the U.S. solar energy industry for the calendar year 2010. The primary intent of this study is to go beyond the relatively simplistic analysis of solar trade issues often provided in both industry and political circles,” according to the report’s executive summary.

As such, it analyzed soft costs (including labor, legal and other costs), solar components, and the sale of domestically produced solar manufacturing equipment abroad, among other things.

The primary U.S. exports were polysilicon for photovoltaics and photovoltaic capital—manufacturing—equipment, the former accounted for $2.6 billion in exports, the latter, $1.4 billion. The largest import, $2.4 billion, was for photovoltaic modules. The U.S. exported $1.2 billion in modules during 2010, according to the report.

Whether the U.S. will continue to enjoy a net export surplus in the solar industry remains to be seen.

“I think it’s too early to say; we don’t have data yet on 2011,” said Shayle Kann, GTM Research managing director of solar and lead report author. “On one hand, we produced a lot of silicon and photovoltaic capital equipment, which shows the market is growing. Still China is growing market share in the U.S. In the end it will come down to how the numbers stack up.”

The sale of capital equipment for photovoltaics abroad will help other companies and countries ramp up their exports.

“It’s intended to make you a competitive manufacturer,” Kann said.

But the U.S. is still committed to the industry, according to Kann.

“The loan guarantees are an example of how the government is committed to [solar].” That companies also are developing new manufacturing plants in the U.S., and the exportation of polysilicon show that people and companies are still interested in building on the U.S.-based solar industry, he said.

A significant portion of installed system costs in the U.S.—$2.21 per watt of $5.63 per watt, total—was related to soft costs, which includes permitting, legal, engineering and more. Solar's soft costs are being targeted for potential reductions, which include permitting simplification, among others.

Overall, the soft costs are a value accounted for in the report.

“But the lower you can drive costs, the more you can install. Driving those costs out of it, might drive down that cost a little bit,” he said. “We’d rather see a market 5 times as big with soft costs half as big.”

SEIA and GTM will hold a teleconference on Wednesday, Aug. 31 discussing the report. The teleconference was scheduled for Aug. 29, but was held off because of Hurricane Irene’s impact on the East Coast, including Washington, D.C.

Image courtesy of SEIA.