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U.S. solar industry reduces shipment of PV cells and modules

WASHINGTON, DC, US, 2004-09-15 (Refocus Weekly) Shipments of solar PV cells and modules declined in the United States last year for the first time in two decades.

Shipments dropped 2.5% to 109,357 peak kilowatts, according to the Energy Information Administration. Exports dropped by 9% while domestic shipments rose 7%. Shipments of PV module rose 24% to 80,062 kW but cells declined to 29,295 kW from 47,677 kW in 2002, the agency reports in its annual survey.

One of the major events that affected shipments last year was the bankruptcy of AstroPower, the second-largest producer of PV cells and modules. Although its assets were purchased by General Electric's solar division, the bankruptcy had a "major impact" on the amount and distribution of cell and module shipments to business categories.

Another factor was the repurchase by Shell Solar of substantial quantities of cells for module manufacture, which are considered as negative shipments. Shipments to module manufacturers decreased by two-thirds, while shipments to exporters and end users rose substantially.

The largest drop was in single crystal cell and module shipments, which declined 15,000 kW due largely to the fact that Astropower produced only single crystal cells. The increase in cast and ribbon cell and module shipments was due to RWE, which expanded its module capacity substantially last year while other PV companies also expanded their capacity.

The average price for single-crystal silicon cells dropped to US$1.88 from $2.14 per peak watt, while the price for single-crystal modules dropped from $3.64 in 2002
to $3.38 last year, despite increased shipments. The average price of all PV cells displayed a similar pattern ($2.12 to $1.86), while the average price of modules declined more than the price of single-crystal modules.

The decline in average price, combined with the drop in shipments, reduced the total value of PV shipments in the U.S. to $308 million last year, a decline of 9% from 2002.

Shipments to the residential sector declined by 20% last year and by 13% for industrial markets, while commercial shipments rose 60% to 33,000 kW from 21,000 kW in 2002. Much of the increase in the commercial market was due to Shell Solar dropping it recreational vehicle kits in favor of rooftop applications.

Shipments to the transportation sector declined 12% (2,000 kW) and grid-interactive (including rooftop applications) rose 9,000 kW to 42,000 kW last year. Grid-tied applications account for 40% of the market and is the predominant use of PV cell and module shipments in the U.S., up from 30% in 2002.

Over half of PV exports last year were to Germany, which imported 2.5 times more U.S. cells and modules than the next-largest importer, Hong Kong. Shipments of complete PV systems dropped 21% although the total peak kilowatts shipped and the value of systems rose substantially due to Shell Solar's shift to larger rooftop installations. While the price per system increased more than 40% last year, the price dropped to $5.28 per peak kW compared with $5.51 in 2002.

Employment in the PV manufacturing industry rose steadily between 1994 and 1998, then remained stable until 2000. Last year, employment dropped slightly but remained close to 2001-2002 levels, and the number and type of companies involved in PV-related businesses remained essentially unchanged in 2003, says EIA


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