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Not just China: Where solar panels are made

Over 70% of PV modules on the market come from China, as well as the components and raw materials used to make them. How did it happen? Is it good or bad? Who else is in the business? Let’s figure out where solar panels are made.

Early days of solar industry

There has been a succession of countries leading the solar industry since the 1950s.
The first practical solar cell, made of silicon, was developed by Bell Laboratories in 1954. Solar Power Corporation, ARCO Solar, and Solartron were the first big names in the American solar industry. 

Bell Labs is now a part of Nokia

Japan emerged as a major player in the industry in the 1980s with companies, such as Sharp and Kyocera. Panasonic was also already around at that time!

Europe started getting into solar energy in the 1990s. The demand increased greatly with the adoption of solar incentive programs in Germany, Spain, and Italy. That’s when Germany got tempted by cheap but skilled labor in China and lured the country into solar panel manufacturing.

Seeing how high the demand gets in the West, the Chinese government determined renewables to be a strategic industry in the 2000s. It provided favorable loans and tax incentives for manufacturers. Soon, China became the major country where solar panels are manufactured and dropped global prices for photovoltaics by 80% between 2008 and 2013.

Age of Chinese solar dominance

China took over every key stage of the global solar power supply chain in 2021, according to the IEA report. The production only grows: the country is expected to add 95 to 120 GW of solar power in 2023. This would be a record annual rise in capacity, according to China Photovoltaic Industry Association (CPIA).

Interestingly, China didn’t have much interest in using solar power just 10 years ago, instead selling all its PV products. Now it is the largest producer of solar energy in the world, with around 400 GW installed. The US holds second place, closing in on 150 GW of installed solar capacity.

Among numerous Chinese solar manufacturers, the most prominent are JinkoSolar, JA Solar, Trina Solar, Longi Solar, Risen Energy, Chint Solar, and Suntech Power. Canadian Solar, surprisingly, is also a company with Chinese origins. It has manufacturing facilities both in China and Canada. 

The fact that the whole solar market depends on one single country is concerning and makes the supply chain fragile. For example, the US borders blocked the import of Chinese solar panels in the spring of 2022, suspecting that suppliers avoided trade taxes. Immediately, the country found itself lacking panels to complete ongoing solar projects that would help meet clean energy goals.

Not all the panels come from China though. There are already some big players under the sun, and they may become competitors for China in the future.

Solar hubs around China

When solar panels aren’t from China, it’s likely that they come from one of the ASEAN countries. Vietnam and Malaysia are the world’s second and third largest manufacturers of solar panels. Thailand, Singapore, and Cambodia aren’t far behind.

Lots of companies with big names ship their panels from Southeast Asia. For example, the Norwegian brand REC has its solar panels made in Singapore. Sunpower, one of the best American brands, runs manufacturing plants in Malaysia and the Philippines.

Southeast Asia has become the key to how Chinese solar manufacturers avoid trade action from the West. By opening factories in neighboring countries, they sell panels into Europe and the US without any restrictions.

Japan has been the home of Panasonic, one of the oldest and most respected electronics brands. Panasonic solar panels used to be manufactured domestically and in Malaysia, but the company decided to outsource production in 2022.

South Korea remains one of the technological and quality leaders in the industry. The biggest Korean solar company is Hanwha Q CELLS. Interestingly, the company originated in Germany but was bought by the Hanwha group in 2012. Their manufacturing facilities are located in China, Malaysia, South Korea, and the United States.

India is set to reach self-sufficiency and become the second-largest solar manufacturing country after China by 2026. It plans to reduce its reliance on China for upstream components, which is now as much as 95%. India’s cumulative manufacturing capacity more than doubled from 18 GW in 2022 to 38 GW in 2023, according to a new report from the IEEFA and JMK Research and Analytics.

European quest for solar independence

To break free from fossil fuels, Europe bets on solar power to become its biggest source of energy by 2030. What the EU fears is becoming too dependent on China, considering that it provided 75% of solar panel imports in 2021. Here is what Swiss company Meyer Burger told A1 SolarStore on the issue:

Anne Schneider
Global Head Communications & PR at Meyer Burger

In Europe, we have an attractive and growing market and find perfect production conditions as a highly skilled workforce and the world’s leading R&D environment in solar do reside here. The challenge right now is the massive oversupply of Chinese modules sold below their own production costs in all European markets. What we as an industry demand right now are fair market conditions. Europe is the only big PV market in the world, which is not protected against unfair trade practices. E.g., the U.S. have rolled out their market protection since they do not allow solar modules to enter the market which used forced labor, and they support the build-up of a domestic solar industry through the IRA.

Net zero means reducing greenhouse gas emissions to as close to zero as possible 

The European Commission proposed the Net-Zero Industry Act on March 16, 2023, which is meant to resurrect manufacturing capacity in the EU. The target is to provide at least 40% of the EU’s annual deployment needs for strategic net-zero technologies by 2030. The problem is a large price gap since European-assembled modules are about a third more expensive than Chinese ones.

Here are some companies shaping the European manufacturing landscape: Solarwatt and SolarWorld from Germany, Solarge from the Netherlands, Italian 3Sun, and Spanish Abora Solar. One of the brands with European-made panels that we offer is Meyer Burger. Its panels are designed in Germany and manufactured in Switzerland.

Climate Bill and American solar resurgence

The United States watched their solar leadership pass to Japan, then Germany, and then China. America is no longer the number one but tries to keep up with the solar industry leaders.

IRA should decrease US CO2 emissions by 40% and bring them back to the 2005 level

The Inflation Reduction Act (IRA), signed into law by President Joe Biden on August 16, 2022, became the largest investment in the fight against climate change in US history. The government plans to spend almost $370 billion on energy programs.

For the American solar industry, the Climate Bill is expected to bring 682 GW of total solar capacity in the United States, more than 5 times the amount installed today. It should double industry employment and attract over $600 billion in new investment, according to SEIA. By 2032, solar energy will produce more electricity than all American coal plants in 2021.

Most importantly, IRA extends the 30% Solar Tax Credit (ITC) that was meant to expire in 2024. ITC allows homeowners and businessmen to deduct 30% of the solar system’s cost from their income taxes. The Climate Bill reinstated ITC at 30% and extended it through 2032. In 2033 and 2034, the rate will drop to 26% and 22%. The credit expires in 2035.

Where are solar panels made in the USA? First Solar has three factories in Ohio and wants to build its fourth factory in the Southeast. Texas is home to Mission Solar which produces high-quality and cost-effective panels. Solaria manufactures solar panels both in California and South Korea. Silfab Solar has manufacturing facilities both in Washington and Canada.

Find your American-made panels

Prefer homemade product? Check out solar panels from US brands in our store!

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Years of experience in translation and a love of nature help Julia find the right words to encourage going solar. She joined the team in 2023 and is happy to make her contribution to a greener future.

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