China’s Role in the Global PV Industry

solar cell
solar cell

Last week, I participated in the North American PV Fab Managers Forum, part of the Intersolar North America conference in San Francisco. One of the hot topics was the role of China in the photovoltaic (PV) industry. Asia in general and China in particular have come to be a major presence on the PV manufacturing scene.

Chris Hartshorn of Lux Research estimated that Asian factories now produce 78% of solar crystalline silicon wafers, 45% of solar cells based on silicon wafers, and 71% of finished PV modules.

Much of the resulting PV product is exported, in particular to major PV consuming markets in Europe and the U.S. A point of considerable discussion was whether this trend would continue to the detriment of PV manufacturing in Europe and the US.

In the words of some, how do “we” compete against “them” to assure that all PV products aren’t imported from abroad? It seems to me that while one might legitimately ponder the future of manufacturing in Europe and the US, the steady progression to “grid parity” — i.e. driving the cost of solar-generated electricity down sufficiently to be broadly competitive with a widening portion of historical energy sources — is the key next step in the evolution of the PV industry, and that this progression to grid parity will likely be an international endeavor.

“Us” versus “them” is trumped by the need for a singular focus on driving down solar costs, using the full global mosaic of resources available to do so. Applied Materials is supporting efforts to jump-start the re-emergence of a broad U.S.-based PV manufacturing sector. Clearly, comprehensive climate and energy legislation directed at accelerating the production and use of renewables in the U.S. would greatly aid these efforts. Meanwhile Applied is proud to list some 80 separate businesses on its solar customer list in China.

Selling world-class tools to those gutsy enough — and perhaps just geographically lucky enough — to buy them, is what we do.

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