Determining where solar panels are made is not as easy as one might think. Seven of the world’s top 10 solar panel manufacturers are based in China, while only First Solar is based in the United States. The two remaining manufacturers on the list are from South Korea and Canada, though the latter is often considered Chinese as well.
But a manufacturer’s country of origin is only part of determining where solar panels come from. Manufacturers have factories in many parts of the world, and most “manufacturers” are just assemblers of the final product. Like many manufactured goods, a single solar panel (or “module”) is made of multiple parts that are manufactured by separate companies located all over the world using raw materials from even more parts of the world.
The Global Supply Chain
Determining where solar panels are made requires tracing the solar chain from the final product back to its parts and the raw materials they are all made of.
From top to bottom, a solar panel sitting on a rooftop is comprised of:
A glass cover
An encapsulant that provides weather protection
Photovoltaic (PV) cells
A back sheet that provides more protection
A junction box that connects the panel to an electric circuit
And additional adhesives and sealants between the parts.
Those parts are manufactured from smaller components, which are manufactured from primary materials from many regions.
In 2020, the United States imported roughly 86% of new solar PV modules, capable of producing 26.7 gigawatts (GW) of electricity—enough to supply the electricity needs of Arizona during the summer. By contrast, U.S.-based manufacturers produced 4.4 GW of solar PV modules. Imported modules came primarily from Asia, especially Malaysia, Vietnam, Thailand, and South Korea. China, whose imports are the subject of much political controversy, accounted for merely 1% of module imports to the U.S. at the end of 2020.
America in the solar panel industry
America invented silicon solar cells in the 1950s. It spent more on solar R&D than any other country in the 1980s. It lost its technological advantage anyway.
You wouldn’t know it today, but the silicon photovoltaic solar cell—the standard, the black-and-copper solar panel you can find on suburban rooftops and solar farms—was born and raised in America.
In the 1960s and ’70s, American companies dominated the global solar market and registered most solar patents. As late as 1978, American firms commanded 95 percent of the global solar market, according to one study.
Starting in the 1980s, leadership in the industry passed to Japan, then to China. Today, only one of the world’s 10 largest makers of solar cells is American.
American manufacturers had already been struggling to compete with imports from East Asia. In 1990, U.S. firms produced 32 percent of solar panels worldwide; by 2005, they made only nine percent.
Solar panel’s economic impacts
The economic potential of solar power in the U.S. requires further (public and private) investment in the growing technology. According to the Department of Energy, “solar panels on just 22,000 square miles of the nation’s total land area – about the size of Lake Michigan – could supply enough electricity to power the entire United States.”
The global race to lead the clean energy economy is underway and capitalizing on the potential of solar with land that collects as much sunshine as the U.S. offers more than just environmental benefits. With the cost of solar as low as it is in 2022 and a potential market as staggering in size as the U.S., solar energy production and manufacturing offer a tremendous economic opportunity with proper investment.
The top 10 solar manufacturers in the world
Based on solar panel shipment capacity in gigawatts (GW), here are the top 10 solar panel manufacturers in the world:
|COMPANY||LOCATION||MOST POPULAR MODEL|
|Longi Solar||China||Longi LR4-60HPH 355M|
|Tongwei Solar||China||PERC SOLAR CELL 166 9BB BIFACIAL|
|JA Solar||China||JA PERC JAM72S01-385/PR|
|Aiko Solar||China||12BB Bifacial Mono PERC Cell|
|Trina Solar||China||Trina Trina tallmax tallmax-TSM410|
|Jinko Solar||China||Jinko Eagle 72HM G2 JKM405M-72HL-V|
|Canadian Solar||Canada||Canadian Solar Inc. Hikublack CS3N-395MS Mono Perc|
|Zhongli||China||BIPRO TD8G66M 12BB|
|Suntech||China||Suntech hipower STP405S-A72|
|First Solar||USA||First FS-6440 FS-6440A|
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