Solar PV market doubled to 6 Gigawatts in 2008 — U.S. left in dust, having invented the technology


After growing 19% in 2006 and 62% in 2007, world solar photovoltaic (PV) market installations exploded by 110% last year to a staggering 5.95 GW, according to Solarbuzz’s Annual Report, Marketbuzz 2009:

Europe accounted for 82% of world demand in 2008. Spain’s 285% growth pushed Germany into second place in the market ranking, while the US advanced to [a very distant] number three. Rapid growth in Korea allowed it to become the fourth largest market, closely followed by Italy and Japan.

And who is the leading producer of PV cells?

China and Taiwan continued to increase their share of global solar cell production, rising to 44% in 2008 from 35% in 2007.

Yes, the United States created the solar cell industry and literally launched it into space 50 years ago. And, yes, solar PV is going to be one of the largest job-creating industries of the century, projected to grow “from a $20 billion industry in 2007 to $74 billion by 2017.”

And, yes, today America has precisely zero of the top ten PV plants (down from 1 last year), with our market share having plummeted in the past decade, as the figure below makes all too painfully clear:

Graph illustrating the relative portion the United States has contributed to annual world production. The world shipments increased to a record high of 1194 MW during 2004, more than a 35-fold increase since 1989. The largest annual increase in U.S. production since data has been collected, a 60% increase, occurred between 2003 and 2004.  U.S. production reached a record of more than 139 MW in 2004.

But don’t get all friggin’ sentimental on me. Think of the few billion dollars U.S. taxpayers saved because:

The fundamental tenets of conservative ideology say that if countries like China and Taiwan and Spain make most of the PV cells, it must be because they have an inherent “comparative” advantage over us. You gotta start reading your Ricardo, people.

Any card-carrying conservative knows that if other countries manage to get millions of their workers’ hands dirty actually making stuff, it’s only because they are better at it. We’re still the brainiacs who invent the technologies first and then wisely save a few pennies of the taxpayer dollars not promoting American technologies into billion-dollar American industries. We’ve still got all those Internet-related jobs, and it’s not like the government had anything to do with that.

So please, all you progressives and enviros out there, stop your whining. The plan is unfolding as it should, indeed as it must. Do not argue with the invisible hand. People will think you’re crazy.

Sure those thin films look cool. They seem like something that could generate a lot of jobs for a high-tech, high wage economy.


More seriously, it will be interesting to see whether significant incentives and real requirements for renewable energy at a national level can restore some semblance of US leadership.

Although growth is sure to slow this year, it does seem like PV is make it a real race with the other solar energy, Concentrated solar thermal power Solar Baseload.

Hat tip SET Energy.

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14 Responses to Solar PV market doubled to 6 Gigawatts in 2008 — U.S. left in dust, having invented the technology

  1. Joe,
    This is not at all mysterious and unfortunately responsibility cannot be hung entirely upon conservatives. Progressives have resisted discussing renewable energy payments, a.k.a. feed in tariffs or other long-term financing mechanisms for renewable energy seriously. The reason why other countries deploy solar and wind more rapidly than we do is that advocates for those technologies abroad, are not hampered by the notion that renewables should cost the same as fossil generation NOW.

    It’s really a three-step logical process that here on the pages of this blog and also elsewhere gets confused:

    Step 1) Do I (we) want renewable energy and its benefits?
    Step 2) How much does it cost?
    Step 3) How do we pay for it?

    Here in the US, though this is changing now in some areas, the answer to “step 2” has created a feedback loop back to Step 1… People think: “If renewable energy costs X, I don’t really want it” or “Let’s pretend that renewable energy costs what we are paying now for energy”. If the latter is the response, which is more typical of people who pretend to care about the environment or the climate, we get the kind of rickety policy instruments we have had here in the US.

    If we really want renewable energy to be a reality here and do the heavy lifting in the area of energy, we are going to have to modify or break what I call “The Cheap Energy Contract”. This doesn’t mean electric bills will necessarily be higher, if we include aggressive energy efficiency. Only that per kWh costs need to go up SOME to what might be called “mid-priced” energy. With a moderate upturn in the economy, fossil costs are going to go up anyway, but rather than passively allow the energy markets to make energy more expensive, we need to take much more pro-active steps.

    Eventually renewable energy will be very cheap (ask people who benefit from electricity from “already paid-for” hydroelectric facilities) but we have to pull ourselves over the investment hump.

  2. And by the way, in current projections, renewable energy payments in Germany will only contribute around $3.50 or so per month to the electric bills of the average family there when they have their peak impact in the middle of the 2010’s.

    Be that as it may, we have to decide if we want clean energy and figure out how we ratepayers and taxpayers, are going to pay for it.

  3. Craig ALlen says:

    The top edge of your page has gone AWOL.

  4. Bob Tregilus says:

    Hi Joe:

    I agree with Michael Hoexter.

    In fact, as an organizer for REPs (aka feed-in laws) in Nevada, some of my greatest opposition is coming from progressives, who, have been for years active in the RE movement. Clearly, however, it’s understandable given what they have been through since the Reagan years. It’s been a tough uphill struggle in a particularly hostile political climate to have gotten as far as they have with tax credits and quota systems and the like.

    But the political climate has changed, and entrenched interests need to think beyond government incentives to accelerate RE growth in America.

    You should get Mike Tidwell or Daphne Wysham of Earth Beat radio to do a show on REPs. I’d guess Michael would be happy to be a guest as would Paul Gipe of

    Some good resources on REPs are: & &

    Bob Tregilus

  5. DavidCOG says:

    And over in the UK our ‘leaders’ are intent on making solar PV unsuccessful:

  6. Bill Woods says:

    The top graph suggests Germany and Spain have strange priorities. Maybe they’re right and everybody else is wrong; then again, maybe not. At least Spain has solar resources to exploit.

    This also suggests Germany has misplaced priorities:
    Federal Environment Minister Sigmar Gabriel (SPD) is pushing for the construction of new coal-fired power plants in Germany. “We need eight to twelve new coal plants if we want to get off of nuclear energy,” Gabriel said…

  7. Maarten says:

    While the growth of PV in Germany is impressive (and quite costly to the electricity consumers — which I don’t mind, I don’t live there), Germany could have saved a lot more CO2 with the stroke of a pen: Introducing general speed limits on the motorways, like all other civilized countries. But the car industry, you know, fearing the could no longer peddle their over-motorized luxury vehicles, …

  8. The retarded development of US-invented technology is a national disgrace. What are the reasons?

    (1) Politicians and the public are unaware that anything is wrong. We hear constantly about American ingenuity as the key to our economic recovery, as if there were a nurturing environment here for innovation, which is not true any more.

    (2) Big business hates innovation (“disruptive” technology = obsolete inventory), and big business owns enough lawmakers to make life difficult for those who want to develop new solutions to climate problems. A “small business” is defined by federal law as having less than 500 employees, so breaks intended for real small business go to what most people would consider big business. Why is there no microbusiness category, say 20 employees or less? That is where innovation will be coming from. Taxes and paperwork and other federal requirements appropriate to big business are a crushing burden for the microbusiness.

    (3) Venture capitalists, and angel investors, will not look at any enterprise which is not already shipping product, and they expect 10 times their money back after two years. So technology development startup money, to get through the Valley of Death, is not available in America unless you have some product that requires minimal manufacturing, like software.

    (4) Government grants support pure academic research in exotic froniers of particle physics, etc., which does not help with climate change technology development. Applied science is held in low regard, while string theory and pure science is the ticket to academic advancement. Technology transfer out of the labs is not working, and mission-driven science is resisted as an infringement of academic freedom, so America’s abandoned inventions are adopted by foreign competitors.

    (5) We scorn the inventor and exalt the Wall Street banker. So what do you expect to happen?

  9. J4zonian says:

    To put Michael Hoexster’s point another way, if you’re fairly well off and get cancer, do you

    A. shop around for the cheapest treatment and then go with waving magnets over your head because it costs less than surgery? or do you

    B. decide what you want, do it, and then pay whatever it costs?

    (This is leaving out C. get insurance ahead of time and don’t worry about the cost at the time, because it’s too late for that if you have cancer and put off insurance).

    Similarly, Yugos and BMWs will both get you places, but no one looks at both and buys the Yugo because it’s cheaper.

    Surgery and magnets, like Yugos and BMWs, are NOT THE SAME PRODUCTS. Coal, oil and nuclear vs conservation, solar and wind are also NOT THE SAME PRODUCTS! Fossil/nukes will get you energy, cancer, reduced democracy and the end of civilization…while solar/wind/conserv. will get you energy and NOT. when you are a fabulously wealthy society as we are, you figure out what you need and then pay whatever it costs.

  10. Jeff says:

    The U.S. did not invent the technology. For a discussion,

    [JR: That is not a discussion. We invented the “first practical solar cells.” Other people invented impractical ones. Congrats to them!]

  11. Dillon says:

    Ha, I don’t agree with it all but nice none-the-less

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  14. tt says:

    Why are you looking at end sales as the metric to gauge US involvement in the solar industry. You need to look at profits. Sure a Chinese solar module maker has a high share of sales. But they don’t make any money. The money is made in the hard areas. Either poly production or thin film production. And that’s where the US competes. Why do you want a bunch of commodity, low wage, unskilled labor jobs here?