US losing its share of $1tn global solar revenues

21. January 2013 | Global PV markets, Industry & Suppliers, Investor news, Markets & Trends, Research & Development | By:  Max Hall

A report into the future of the U.S. clean energy industry has called upon President Obama and Congress to introduce measures to ensure the country does not fall further behind in the global renewable energy revolution.

A First Solar photovoltaic installation in Rajasthan.

First Solar's impressive 2011 performance masks a decline in U.S. influence in the global photovoltaic marketplace.

Research from the Pew Charitable Trust lobbying group has concluded that: the U.S. needs a national clean energy standard to replace the current piecemeal state-by-state arrangements; energy R&D should be at least doubled from its current level; tax credits and incentives for clean energy should be renewed; and policy should be introduced to 'level the playing field' for renewables against the fossil fuel industry.

The trust's report: Innovate, Manufacture, Compete: A Clean Energy Action Plan, predicts that from 2012 to 2018 the cumulative revenue generated from solar photovoltaic worldwide will total US$1 trillion, of an expected $1.9 trillion from clean energy generation.

Annual global solar revenue is predicted to rise from $113 billion in 2012 to $183 billion in five years' time, with photovoltaic installations expected to total 375 GW in 2018, having risen from 32 GW last year to 86.3 GW in 2018.

Of that figure, the Pew report states clean energy in the U.S. will total 126 GW of generation by 2018 with the 12 GW installed in 2012 doubling by 2018 and solar providing $128 billion of the cumulative $269 billion revenue anticipated.

Set against that background, the Pew report paints a picture of a declining role for the U.S. on the world stage, noting that although American photovoltaic installations have doubled in the last two years, the additional capacity is less than a third of that added by Germany or Italy, with China surpassing the U.S. in solar for the first time, in 2011.

The research also examined the market share of the top 15 photovoltaic module makers in 2011 noting that although the U.S.-based First Solar was market leader with 6.7% of the global trade, only one other American manufacturer – SunPower – made the China-dominated top 15, its 2.8% market share matched by Japanese electronics giant Sharp.

The Pew report called for a national strategy to promote clean energy noting that the U.S. was among a minority of countries without a national renewables generation target, along with the likes of Cuba, Iran, Venezuela, Haiti, Eritrea and Luxembourg and not including nations such as Somalia, Afghanistan and North Korea.

The clean energy business leaders and investors consulted as part of the trust's research agreed a trade war with China over solar modules was best avoided because of the complex nature of the Sino-U.S. solar trade.

Consultees also called for a fairer treatment of renewables in public policy which would reflect the true environmental and health cost of traditional forms of power generation.

With the U.S.' Republican–dominated Congress today criticizing President Obama's desire to continue with the Section 1603 Grant Program for Renewable Energy, contributors to the Pew report noted that although U.S. clean energy support is sporadic and politically sensitive, there are only four fixed energy tax credits: three for the oil and gas industry and one for nuclear.


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