These are tough times for the solar industry, depending on your viewpoint.
- The tax grant is gone, but the ITC lives on.
- A tariff on Chinese solar panels is likely, with a commerce department pronouncement due this week.
- PV module prices are the lowest they've ever been.
- Germany's feed-in tariff and German solar demand will fall in 2012.
- Still, the progress of solar technology marches on.
- And there's optimism in the downstream and adjacent sectors, with IPO rumors at installer SolarCity and an imminent IPO from microinverter pioneer Enphase.
On the eve of a large solar tradeshow, PV America West in San Jose, Calif., as well as the eve of the PV module tariff decision, Julie Blunden, Executive VP for Public Policy and Corporate Communication at SunPower, found some reasons to be optimistic.
First, Blunden points out that "the death of U.S. manufacturing is greatly exaggerated," adding that "high-tech solar is, in fact, happening in Silicon Valley. We are manufacturing and designing in Silicon Valley."
About 120 people have been working 24/7 for a year at the Milpitas Flextronics plant building SunPower panels. SunPower's 20-percent-efficiency E20 panel will be manufactured in Milpitas next quarter, according to Blunden.
She adds that the U.S. solar industry is estimated to employ more than 100,000 people today, and that a recent dealer survey conducted by the firm shows that "one-third of our dealers weren't even in business five years ago." SunPower has expanded its headquarters and its Richmond operation, and the California Valley Solar Ranch (CVSR), a 250-megawatt project which formally broke ground in November 2011, will create jobs and inject $315 million into the local economy in San Luis Obispo County, California.
Here's a view from the ground from workers and residents in San Luis Obispo County and at the CVSR.
For fiscal year 2012, SunPower expects revenue of $2.6 billion to $3.0 billion and megawatts recognized to be in the range of 900 megawatts to 1,200 megawatts.