Can We Buy Made-in-America Solar Panels?

Many municipalities and corporations favor American-made products, both as an act of patriotism – support US jobs and our economy – as well as to facilitate service, repairs and replacement.

There are a number of solar panel manufacturing companies that advertise “Made in America.”  In fact, most of these products have components manufactured abroad while some or all of the panels are assembled in the United States.    Even if the panels are not 100% made and assembled in the US the panels still meet technical requirements for making the “Made in America” claim.   American jobs have certainly been promoted and at the end of the supply chain the installation will necessarily involve American jobs.

This article examines the requirements for the “Made in America” claim and highlights solar panel manufacturers that can fairly and honestly make the claim.

When are solar panels “Made in America?”  In order to claim that panels were “Made in America” “all or virtually all” of the solar panels must be made in America, according to the Federal Trade Commission.  This includes all parts, processing and labor.

In the case of solar panels, the evaluation raises some interesting questions.  Does “virtually all” refer to all of the parts irrespective of how expensive they are?  Or does it refer to the value of those parts?  The answer, according to the FTC, is value.

A solar panel installation includes a number of components:

  • Panels which consist of silicon wafers mounted within glass and aluminum grids;
  • Aluminum mounting frames or ballasts;
  • Hardware for securing the frames to the roof;
  • Inverters;
  • Wires; and
  • Meters, switches, monitors and other items.

If we were to allocate the costs of solar installation to each of these categories we would find that the component most frequently imported – the solar panels themselves – is less than 1/3 of the cost of the installation.  Even if all other parts are made in the United States, and all labor were US labor, the panels would not qualify for Made in America status.

Assembled in USA.  Some manufacturers, aware of the fact that their proucts do not qualify for “Made in America” claims, will revert to a weaker claim such as “Assembled in USA” or “Composed of 70% US Products.”  These claims are not the same as “Made in America.”

ARRA.  Some solar panels may be compliant under the 2009 American Recovery and Reinvestment Act although they may not be qualified for “Made in America” under the FTC “virtually all” guidelines.    The ARRA guidelines use a “substantial” standard in lieu of a “virtually all” standard.

“Made in America” Solar Panels.   Below is a list of solar panel manufacturers that can make the “Made in America” claim.

1.   Solar World. Solar World is the only 100% US manufacturer with parts produced in California, Oregon, Washington, New York, Michigan, Illinois, New Jersey, Texas, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Georgia, Connecticut, Ohio and Colorado.   (The states listed are in order of dollars spent, with California accounting for some $381.7 million total spend by Solar World and Colorado a mere $15.5 million.)  Solar World claims that since 2008 it has bought more than $1.4 billion in equipment, parts and services from all 50 states and the District of Columbia.

2.   Suniva. This Georgia-based company emerged from University Center of Excellence for Photovoltaic Research and Education (UCEP) at the Georgia Institute of Technology.

3.   SunPower. Although not 100% manufactured in the US, SunPower is headquartered in San Jose, California and employs a great many US workers for diverse purposes including management, administration, assembly, warehousing, distribution, installation and warranty services.

4.   1SolTech. This Dallas-based company produces a creative line of polycrystalline solar panels in different colors.  Panels are 100% made in the Dallas/Fort Worth area.  Capacity ranges from 210-230 watts DC.

5.   Prism. Based in Highland, New York, these transparent bi-facial solar modules may be expensive but could fill a niche for tight urban environments.    The company claims the panels produce 35% more output than conventional designs.

6.   itek. Less than 1% of the market, itek was founded in 2009 in Washington State and produces about 25 mW of monocrystalline solar panels per year.    Panels are sized 270-310 watts and carry 25 year production warranties and 10 year workmanship warranties.

7.   10ksolar. This Minnesota-based company has introduced a reflective technology that helps to enhance the output of its US-made panels.