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, encapsulant, glass, backsheets, junction boxes, connectors, and frames. Aside from panels and their components and input materials (such as silicon metal and polysilicon or cadmium telluride powder), 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. Learn more about how PV manufacturing works.

Solar Manufacturing in the United States
 

The U.S. Solar Photovoltaic Manufacturing Map details active manufacturing sites that contribute to the solar photovoltaic supply chain.

Why is Solar Manufacturing Important?

Building a robust and resilient 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 nearly a third of today’s domestic demand, but has gaps for solar glass and in the crystalline silicon value chain for the wafer and cell segments. To meet the nation’s decarbonization goals we need to expand our domestic manufacturing capacity and close existing gaps. 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:

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.

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Most metal contacts in photovoltaic (PV) solar cells are made with silver, which is a high-priced, high-demand metal. Bert Thin Films received an award from DOE's Solar Energy Technologies Office to develop a copper paste that can replace silver and be easily added into the manufacturing lines of solar companies.
U.S. Department of Energy/Bert Thin Films

Other offices in the Energy Department contribute to the advancement of clean energy manufacturing, including the Advanced Materials and Manufacturing Technologies Office.

To view specific solar manufacturing projects, search the Solar Energy Research Database.

Additional Resources

Learn more about solar manufacturing and competitiveness research, other solar energy research in SETO, and current and former funding programs.