2010 was a record-setting year for the US solar PV manufacturing industry, with US solar PV exports exceeding imports by $1.9 billion globally.

Solar PV is one of the few areas where the US actually has a trade surplus with China, according to a report from GT Research and the Solar Energy Industry Association (SEIA) released yesterday.

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Total solar photovoltaic (PV) exports from the US totaled $5.6 billion in 2010 while imports totaled $3.7 billion. The US actually has a trade surplus with China when it comes to solar PV: the US exported more than $240 million in solar PV products to China than it imported.

Accounting for 99% of total exports, PV components, primarily PV polysilicon feedstock and manufacturing equipment used to manufacture solar PV cells, were the leading export categories at $2.5 billion and $1.4 billion, respectively. China and Germany were the leading importers for these solar PV products.

Solar PV imports totaled $3.7 billion, $2.4 billion of which was solar PV modules. China and Mexico topped the list of countries from which US companies sourced solar PV imports.

Here in the US, revenue from solar PV totaled $4.4 billion in 2010. Seventy-five cents of every dollar spent on a US solar installation accrued in the US, according to the report.

GTM Research managing director of solar research Shayle Kann pointed out that the solar PV value chain is extensive and should not be judged on the value of solar PV modules alone. “Until now, the finished module was the industry’s benchmark for judging the health of the PV manufacturing sector. However, the PV market is more complex than meets the eye.

“To completely understand solar trade flows, this report looks both at earlier steps in the value chain and at the non-panel components of a solar PV system. As our research shows, the U.S. remains a focal point in global PV manufacturing, thanks largely to the domestic manufacturing of feedstock and manufacturing equipment.”

So-called ‘soft costs’ associated with solar PV projects made up nearly 50% of total solar PV revenue in 2010. This includes products and services such as site preparation, labor, permitting and financing.

“The U.S. solar energy market continues to be a bright spot in an otherwise bleak economy. As the global solar industry continues to grow and evolve, the U.S. is seen more and more as a leading market — both in installations and in exports,” SEIA CEO Rhone Resch commented.

“Solar is a showcase industry of U.S. ingenuity. In 2010, we grew by over 100%, we achieved a significant positive trade balance, and we exported more goods and services to China than we imported. Solar energy is an industry invented in the U.S. that is helping our country reclaim our manufacturing leadership. But to maintain our competitive advantage, we need innovative, proactive solutions from policymakers to match the investments being provided overseas to grow robust solar supply chains. Doing so will result in new jobs and opportunities for communities that have seen their factories close up shop in recent years.”

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