Solar industry jobs may be on the rise, but stiff global competition and the closing of manufacturers shows that the solar energy industry isn't the silver bullet to energy... yet. Prior to the recession, the industry could barely keep up with worldwide demand for solar energy. Now, there are signs that the solar energy industry is on the rebound, but it's not completely in the sunshine just yet.
The demise of Solyndra back in August has made American policymakers and some solar energy industry representatives fearful of the health of the global solar industry, although the industry is the fastest growing industry in the United States. Results from the "National Solar Jobs Census 2011" revealed that the US solar energy industry created jobs at a rate of 6.8 percent through August 2011. This rate is projected to triple in the next 12 months, as nearly half of the solar energy industry employers surveyed said they plan to add jobs within the next year. The status and the perception of the American solar energy industry is crucial, as it is strongly tied to the health of the solar energy industry in other countries.
The market in the European Union is in tough times, with the current banking crisis on the continent as well as the possibility of another global recession. The European solar energy industry saw excellent numbers in previous years, accounting for 81 percent of global demand, with three markets accounting for three-fourths of the global market growth: Germany, Italy and the Czech Republic. However, the tough times, plus the fierce competition coming from China (another rising star in the global solar energy industry) highlight the possibility of bankruptcies, mergers, acquisitions, and a battle with Chinese solar manufacturers.
China has just surpassed the United States as the world's largest producer of solar panels. The low cost of Chinese labor and technological advances have helped to push down the average price of a modules from US$2.01 per watt of output in December 2010 to $1.16 per watt today. The average solar system price in the US is $5.20 per watt. Because of the low prices, Chinese panels are flooding the market, and companies in both the United States and Europe are wanting to impose a duty on Chinese solar imports in order to level the competition. If the duty doesn't go through, then Western companies will have to find a way to cut manufacturing costs, or to pull a miracle, in order to compete in the solar energy industry.
Ideally, competition is healthy, driving companies to innovate and to produce the best product for the best price in order to succeed. As the global solar energy industry is on the rebound, it's still to early to say which countries, and which companies will come out on top.