China’s Trina Solar Bets on America’s Thriving Photovoltaics Market

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China’s second largest maker of solar photovoltaic (PV) cells is gearing up to generate jobs on U.S soil, in yet another reversal of the usual order.

Trina Solar announced plans to build its first North American warehouse operation at the Port of Oakland, Calif. The move will allow Trina to extend its reach in America’s growing PV market. From the press release:

"We view the outlook for PV installations in the United States as positive given the national promotion of a green economy to secure energy independence and create green jobs."

Globally, new PV installations shot up a staggering 110 percent in 2008. That’s more than double the increase in 2007, according to Solarbuzz’s Annual Report, Marketbuzz 2009. The U.S. snagged a slice of that explosive growth, accounting for 360 MW out of 5,950 MW, or 6 percent. It was just enough to push the nation into the number three spot in the market ranking, behind Germany and Spain.

Growth will likely wane in 2009, due to the sagging economy. But the future of American solar looks bright. Demand for installations are expected to charge ahead in 2010, as U.S. government incentives boost future development. And China, it seems, wants a piece.

According to Trina Solar, the new warehouse will increase its North American distribution network and allow it to respond faster to customer delivery requests. The location was an obvious choice. In 2008, California had a total of 530 MW of the estimated 800 MW of America’s grid-tied PV capacity. Service is set to begin this month, and new jobs will surely flow, though the number was not disclosed.

It won’t be the company’s first effort to focus on the U.S. market. In November, Trina announced it would open its North American headquarters in San Francisco, "as the need for efficient, clean energy in America continues to accelerate." In March, the company completed America’s largest roof-mounted solar array (pictured to the right), a 2.4 MW installation in Atlantic City, N.J., that will power up to 280 homes at its peak.

Ten-year-old Trina is unique among global solar players. It’s a vertically integrated enterprise, manufacturing all of the elements of the solar power value chain "in house" – silicon ingots, wafers and solar cells, along with the final assembly of modules.

Germany, Spain and Italy account for the overwhelming majority of its budding business, a result of lucrative solar subsidies. But things are changing. In April, Trina’s CEO Jifan Gao announced that he expects the U.S. to drive a full 15 percent of Trina’s sales in 2009, up from less than 5 percent in 2008.

China’s PV leader, Suntech Power, has also been seeking a greater U.S. solar share. In May, it announced plans to build an America manufacturing facility to serve the growing market for large-scale utility projects and to take advantage of government incentives. The factory is expected to create 1,000 new U.S. jobs in a few years.

The global PV industry has the potential to be one of the largest job-creating industries on the planet, and is predicted to grow from a $20.3 billion business in 2007 to $74 billion by 2017, according to industry analyst Clean Edge.

From a jobs perspective, that expansion would mean gigantic growth. Via a recent report by UK solar leader Solarcentury:

UNEP estimate PV job creation at 7 to 11 per MWp installed; this figure is supported by the German solar experience, where over 50,000 jobs have been created since 2000.

China is pushing hard to maximize the PV opportunity on all fronts. According to the Marketbuzz analysis, Chinese and Taiwanese companies increased their share of global PV cell production to a whopping 44 percent in 2008, up from 35 percent in 2007.

And today, China is the world’s biggest producer of solar PV.

But that’s not all. The nation is now implementing a generous solar subsidy to finally build its own domestic PV industry. Analysts claim it could lead to rapid growth over the next next couple of years and even global leadership. In 2008, China wasn’t even in the top 10 solar PV markets, with less than one percent of the total market.

If that happens, it wouldn’t be the first the time that China has raced to the top of a clean energy sector. Take wind. The nation is now on pace to become the leading wind power market in 2009, after being a minor player as recently as 2005.

That’s all great news for China and even the world, if you think about the potential greenhouse gas savings from a solar and wind installation boom there. But there’s a buried warning in there for the U.S. government. And here it is:

China is determined to be the global renewable energy leader. The U.S. would be wise to step up its solar commitment now, or risk missing out on the massive jobs growth potential of a clean technology sector that could help it recover from its financial malaise.

Chinese firms certainly get that the U.S. solar market has enormous economic potential. But does America?


See also:

Chinese Solar Company Plans U.S. Manufacturing Plant

China Takes Lead in Solar Cell Production

Chinese Solar Energy Company Added 3280 Jobs Since 2005

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World’s Wind Power Parts: Now Made in China 

China Beats US to Offshore Wind Development

China’s Clean Energy Performance Outpacing USA

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