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Thanks China! U.S. solar exports skyrocket 83 percent

Thanks China! U.S. solar exports skyrocket 83 percent

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Contrary to conventional wisdom, China's boom in solar manufacturing has been a boon for U.S. companies. Find out which sector helped the U.S. become a $1.9 billion net exporter of solar products.

Contrary to conventional wisdom, China's boom in solar manufacturing has been a boon for U.S. companies. In 2010, U.S. exports of solar products skyrocketed 83 percent to $5.6 billion thanks to Chinese demand for raw material and equipment used to make photovoltaic modules, according to a new report by GTM Research from the Solar Energy Industries Association.  More importantly, the U.S. was a $1.9 billion net exporter of solar energy products.

The upshot? The U.S. solar industry is pretty diverse, well-balanced and still poised for growth. The U.S solar industry is clearly central to the global supply chain, as the report suggests. More impressive is that rate of growth. In 2009, the U.S. solar industry had a positive trade flow of $723 million. A year later, it more than doubled.

The key phrase here is solar products, which mean the entire value chain including "soft costs"  such as installation labor, permitting, site preparation and financing. These soft costs made up nearly 50 percent of the total solar revenue in 2010.

Photovoltaic components accounted for more than 99 percent of the year's exports with most of that supply heading for China and Germany. Polysilicon, the feedstock of crystalline silicon photovoltaic, was by far the largest category. Exports of polysilicon hit $2.5 billion, more than double the amount in 2009.

Highlights from the report:

  • Capital equipment exports were $1.4 billion
  • U.S. imports of PV products totaled $3.7 billion. The majority came from modules assembled overseas. China and Mexico were the top two sources of PV goods.
  • The U.S. was a net exporter of solar products to China last year by more than $240 million;
  • For every dollar spent on a U.S. solar installation in 2010, $0.75 accrued to the United States.

Photo/ Flickr user peruisay

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Kirsten Korosec

Contributing Editor

Kirsten Korosec has written for Technology Review, Marketing News, The Hill, BNET and Bloomberg News. She holds a degree from Northwestern University's Medill School of Journalism. She is based in Tucson, Arizona. Follow her on Twitter. Disclosure