Solar Photovoltaic (PV) Manufacturing Expansions in the United States, 2017-2019: Motives, Challenges, Opportunities, and Policy Context

Research output: NRELTechnical Report


This report analyzes U.S. PV manufacturing announcements from 2017 through July-2019 and explores the potential impact of tariffs on the competitiveness of U.S. PV module manufacturing. First, the fraction of announcements that resulted in established facilities in the time frame specified is analyzed, as well as firm nationality and the existence of any other U.S. facilities for the firm. The prevalence of different PV product types among the announcements was also analyzed, as well as the type of facilities selected for development (greenfield, existing PV factories, or repurposed buildings). The cost to build these facilities was also analyzed in the context of their capacity, the value of incentives received by state and local governments, and the number of jobs created. Case studies of Auxin Solar, First Solar, Hanwha Q Cells, JinkoSolar, LG, Silfab, Solaria, and SunPower were conducted and highlight five factors influencing firms’ decisions to expand their U.S. PV production capacity. These included: 1) proximity to demand, including supply contracts and demand for domestic content 2) tariffs and other incentives. The Section 201 tariffs on PV module imports were often described helpful but tariffs on cell imports (Section 201) or materials (Section 301, Section 232) were often described as counterproductive since U.S. supply chains do not exist for many necessary goods. The corporate tax decrease and local incentives were often mentioned as helpful. 3) the ability to move quickly in order to maximize the benefit of the Section 201 tariffs. This affected decisions to select localities with faster permitting or moving into existing buildings. 4) competition with scale, where competing with Asian PV imports or avoiding imports of material from China was challenging due to the larger scale of Asian manufacturers. Additionally, smaller firms expressed concerns that larger firms may not need their U.S. facilities to profitable. 5) access to capital, which was a particular challenge for smaller firms. Several U.S. tariffs affect the economics of PV cells, modules, and balance-of-module (BOM) materials, some of which are applicable to a long list of countries and others applicable only to China or Taiwan. We analyze how the tariffs interact to affect the prices of c-Si modules sourced under various assumptions about domestic and imported components and assembly. We estimate module prices under a range of baseline scenarios featuring U.S.-assembled modules with Southeast Asian cells (not from China or Taiwan). When all BOM components are sourced from the United States, baseline module prices are $0.37/W (below the 2.5-GW Section 201 cell cap) to $0.42/W (above the 2.5-GW cell cap). If all BOM components are sourced from China, the module price in this baseline U.S.-assembly scenario can reach up to $0.60/W. Imported module prices are lower than or within the range of the U.S.-assembled baseline prices under some conditions. Importing bifacial modules from Southeast Asia is the lowest-priced alternative, at $0.35/W, because bifacial modules are excluded from the Section 201 tariffs. Importing Southeast Asia modules that contain U.S. cells results in a price of $0.38/W, also owing to a Section 201 exclusion. Importing Southeast Asian modules that have Southeast Asian cells yields a price of $0.44/W, and importing Chinese modules that have U.S. cells yields a price of $0.58/W. These results suggest that U.S. tariff policy in 2019 may encourage U.S. assembly of mono-facial c-Si modules if the 2.5-GW cell import cap is not reached and Chinese BOM imports are negligible. However, some imported module options may offer the lowest prices if the 2.5-GW cell import cap is reached and/or U.S. module manufacturers must rely on significant Chinese BOM content. The analysis shows the 2.5-GW cell cap may be exceeded in 2019 and following years. It is also likely that U.S. module manufacturers will need to use at least some Chinese BOM content, since U.S. module manufacturers have stated that U.S. supply chains do not exist (or do not exist at a sufficient scale) for most BOM components, which makes them at least partially reliant on Chinese BOM and thus subject to Section 301 tariffs.
Original languageAmerican English
Number of pages88
StatePublished - 2021

NREL Publication Number

  • NREL/TP-6A20-74807


  • cadmium telluride
  • module
  • photovoltaic
  • PV
  • silicon
  • solar


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