Volume 47, Issue 3 - March 2012


North American Solar Industry Looks Forward to Possible Boom

The North American solar industry has experienced 100 percent growth each year during 2008 to 2010, says Steve Coonen, a building integrated photovoltaic (BIPV) consultant from Grass Valley, Calif. “Central power plants dominate the growth with both PV [photovoltaic] and CSP [concentrated solar power]. BIPV growth is over 150 percent each year. BIPV still is less than one percent of the overall PV market.”

In the installed solar power category, the global market has seen a 17 percent growth, the North American market has experienced a 38 percent growth and the thin-film and CSP markets have grown 72 percent, says Scott Follett, global director of PPG Solar Performance Group, PPG Industries in Pittsburgh.

More PV growth is expected in the near future, “and prices [will] continue to drop and the power value from PV [will eventually be] equal or lower than utility-generated power,” Coonen says.

Follett agrees. The trends to watch are “industry consolidation and continued downward pressure on module pricing,” he says. “Both [these are] based upon the current supply versus demand imbalance. [There will be] a potential for reduced willing sources of project financing as the global economy continues to weaken.”

To grow, the industry needs a consistent federal policy that does not change year over year, Coonen says.

“Predictability is the key for a quality business plan,” he says. “Each state has its own (some have no) solar incentive program, which further confuses the market. A broad federal plan for a permanent—over 10 years—feed-in tariff that would pay PV plant owners in the range of 25 cents per kilowatt hour (kWh) would be of great benefit industry-wide.”

Continued federal and state assistance, and global mandates would help the solar industry grow, Follett says. “We need increased pressure on lawmakers to legislate ‘local content’/made in the USA specific to system components. We need continued and increased emphasis on supporting the U.S. infrastructure for the transmiss-ion of the power from the power plants to the communities and grid. The cost per watt still is not at grid parity without incentives, [with] possible exceptions [of] some of the larger module producers.”

The glass and glazing industry is about to see BIPV use gain real traction in the near future, says Richard Voreis, chief executive officer of Consulting Collaborative in Dallas and a member of the advisory board of Pythagoras Solar in San Mateo, Calif. “The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) estimates that BIPV fenestration products have the potential to generate up to half the electricity needed in the country,” he says.

The global PV market more than doubled in 2010 with Europe accounting for more than 80 percent of this demand, Voreis says. “The PV industry generated $82 billion in global revenues in 2010 representing a 105 percent increase over $40 billion in 2009,” he says. “By the year 2015, it is projected the European market share will fall to between 45 percent and 54 percent, as the North American and several Asian markets grow rapidly. The U.S. is forecasted to become the third-largest solar PV market, behind Germany and Italy in 2011.”

"To succeed with BIPV, give your company a head start and learn by doing."
—Eddie Bugg, Kawneer

Even though the United States currently comprises 6 percent of the world PV market, it is projected to increase to 12 percent by 2015, Vorheis says. “Despite a struggling domestic economy, the U.S. solar PV market will double in 2011, according to a recent industry report,” he says.“The United States will be the fastest growing major market through at least 2015. New Jersey is the fastest growing state in the United States in PV capacity.”

Most of the United States is expected to reach grid parity by 2015,Voreis says, and that’s when BIPV use will skyrocket. Grid parity is the point at which PV electricity is equal to or cheaper than grid power.

The DOE has set a goal of 100 percent of new commercial buildings to be net-zero energy buildings by 2025, Vorheis says, and BIPV will play a major role in reaching this goal. “The addition of BIPV modules does add cost, but it is still less costly than other building materials such as granite, because it has the double function of generating electrical power,” he says. “Any conventional glass application can be replaced with BIPV modules having the same structural and thermal characteristics.”

The enablers of BIPV are green building/Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED), regulatory and financial incentives, reduced energy price volatility and addition of environmental values to building stakeholders, says Eddie Bugg, director of Sustainable Solutions at Kawneer Co. in Norcross, Ga. “The barriers to BIPV are high price, lower output due to sub-optimal tilt and orientation, complexity of design, technology and implementation, and the learning curve,” he says. “To succeed with BIPV, give your company a head start and learn by doing. Recognize that BIPV is an exercise in optimizing electrical, architectural and glazing system design constraints. Ensure specifications are tight and clearly understood by all, and that the scope and coordination of work with others is clear. Be sure all your suppliers and partners have the commitment, capacity and capability to exceed your expectations.”

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