What is Solar Manufacturing?
Solar manufacturing refers to the fabrication and assembly of materials across the solar value chain, the most obvious being solar photovoltaic (PV) panels, which include many subcomponents like wafers, cells, glass, backsheets, and frames. Aside from panels, there are many different manufactured products that are required for solar energy systems, including inverters, wiring, combiner boxes, and racking and tracking structures—and that’s just for PV. Concentrating solar-thermal power (CSP) systems require the manufacturing of heliostats, receivers, and thermal storage systems, for example.
Domestic manufacturing of solar hardware creates jobs, produces ancillary economic activity, and promotes energy independence. Learn more about how solar technologies work.
Why is Solar Manufacturing Important?
Building a strong solar manufacturing sector and supply chain in America supports the U.S. economy and helps to keep pace with rising domestic and global demand for affordable solar energy. Currently, the U.S. PV manufacturing industry has the capacity to produce PV modules to meet about half of today’s domestic demand. Increasing domestic PV hardware will keep more value in the U.S. economy and create valuable manufacturing jobs.
It will also decrease the dependence of the U.S. on foreign energy supply, which improves U.S. energy security, and also increases the export of renewable generation equipment from the U.S. Focusing on improvements in domestic solar manufacturing will help the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) Solar Energy Technologies Office (SETO) reach its goals.
SETO Research in Solar Manufacturing
SETO funds solar manufacturing research projects that will boost domestic manufacturing competitiveness and help the U.S. compete on a global scale by developing pathways to commercialization for disruptive innovation in the solar industry. Projects support proof-of-concept development and technology validation in addition to advancing entirely new solar hardware and manufacturing processes. This includes conducting techno-economic analysis and other evaluation around supply chains, manufacturing infrastructure, and the workforce. Learn more about SETO’s manufacturing funding programs below:
- American-Made Solar Prize – this $3 million prize competition designed to revitalize U.S. solar manufacturing through a series of contests and the development of a diverse and powerful support network.
- Solar Energy Technologies Office Fiscal Year 2020 funding program – bringing prototypes to a pre-commercial stage and retiring business/market risks to spur investments, patents, publications, and jobs.
- Solar Energy Technologies Office Fiscal Year 2019 funding program – developing robust prototypes that will be able to prove the critical functions of the final products and attract private-sector investment.
- Solar Energy Technologies Office Fiscal Year 2018 funding program – developing and testing new ways to accelerate the integration of emerging technologies into the solar industry.
- Small Business Innovation Research and Small Business Technology Transfer – encouraging U.S.-based small businesses to engage in high-risk, innovative research and technology development with the potential for future commercialization.
- DOE Technology Commercialization Fund - leveraging R&D funding across the entire Department of Energy to mature promising energy technologies with the potential for high impact.
In addition, the office has supported the development of the American-Made Network, which is comprised of national labs, incubators, investors, and seasoned industry mentors. It provides entrepreneurs working with the office with technical insight, product validation, and strategic support.
Other offices in the Energy Department contribute to the advancement of clean energy manufacturing, including the Advanced Manufacturing Office.
To view specific solar manufacturing projects, search the Solar Energy Research Database.
- National Renewable Energy Laboratory: Solar Manufacturing Cost Analysis
- U.S. Manufacturing of Advanced Perovskites (US-MAP) Consortium