Intersolar NA: US market growth despite difficulties

There was a fall in the number of tradeshow attendees from last year, to around 20,000 over the three days. The number of exhibitors also declined to 760, a fall from 835 in 2011. One factor behind the fall in numbers, reported organizer Markus Elsaesser, was a decrease in the number of tier-two Chinese module manufacturers, which was in part a result of the U.S.-Sino solar trade dispute and preliminary tariffs.

The affect of the trade case was disputed by some Intersolar North America attendees, some of which reported it having had little impact. Many Chinese manufacturers are now sourcing photovoltaic cells from Taiwan for their U.S.-bound products. Suntech, which exhibited at the show, said it had sourced Taiwanese cells for its smaller modules. Renesola and Hanwha SolarOne also confirmed that they are employing the same strategy. Renesola began exporting modules to the U.S. only weeks ago and opened its North-American headquarters in San Francisco, less than a month ago.

Oregon-based SolarWorld America told pv magazine that statistics published by the Coalition for American Solar Manufacturing (CASM) showed that imports of Chinese-manufactured cells and modules declined by 82 percent in May 2012, from the previous year. With the trend to Taiwan-sourced cells for the U.S. market, the significance of this statistic could perhaps be unclear. SolarWorld claims business is strong in North America, but was unwilling to provide concrete figures.

The North American photovoltaic market is expected to grow again in 2012, with around three GW of newly installed capacity, an increase from around 1.8 GW in 2011. One key driver in the region has been the rapid growth of the solar leasing market, which is estimated to amount to 70 percent of the residential market in California in 2012, according to leasing provider, SunRun.

Meanwhile, the utility-scale landscape is still dominated by an established pipeline in development, including over 2.5 GW from thin film company, First Solar alone. Analyst Goetz Fischbeck told pv magazine that the financing of large photovoltaic projects in the U.S. remains difficult and there were few announcements of new projects during the three-day tradeshow.

Firms reported that balance of system costs in North America remain higher than in more established markets like Germany, but are decreasing. PV Solar Report’s Stephen Torres told pv magazine that in California BOS costs have declined from US$8.22/W in Q2 2011, to US$6.82/W in Q2 2012. This is over three times as high as in Germany.

Market leading solar leasers, SunRun, which hit the milestone of over 100 MW of residential arrays earlier this year, said that despite comparatively high BOS costs in the U.S., it is still able to operate a profitable leasing model and that demand remains high.

System providers, installers and mounting system companies exhibiting at the Intersolar North America event, reported that there was a good level of interest in their offerings. Angela Kliever, from mounting system provider Schletter, which had one of the biggest booths at the show, said there was good traffic at the booth over the three days. Schletter also announced that it will open a second U.S. manufacturing facility next month, for an investment of US$25 million.