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Global investors may benefit from expected U.S. solar growth

PricewaterhouseCoopers report says others are poised to cash in on expected growth of solar energy in the U.S. in coming years unless U.S. companies take action.

Thin-film solar panels from First Solar, a U.S. solar company that's been developing manufacturing ties in China.
First Solar

The U.S. is poised for a big expansion of solar installations as states, municipalities, and companies add more solar in order to fulfill energy portfolio goals.

The growth will spur from many entities attempting to add renewable energy to the mix, according to a PricewaterhouseCoopers (PWC) report released this week.

The report cites a prediction from the Solar Energy Industries Association that the U.S.'s global share of solar installations is predicted to triple within the next four years.

While that's good news for the solar industry overall, without the U.S. establishing strongholds this growth won't necessarily benefit U.S. companies, says the PWC report "Making hay while the sun shines: Tapping new solar growth opportunities in the United States." (PDF)

Expect major global players to begin setting up shop in the U.S. within the next year, as they shift their focus from the stalling European solar market, to the U.S. market that's heating up, according to PWC.

As proof, the report cites a Chinese-based module manufacturer that recently established a U.S. headquarters, and another recently opening a significant warehouse for fulfilling all East Coast installation orders.

How can the U.S. compete?

"To succeed in a more competitive environment, solar companies should consider several key capabilities, including a U.S. operations center with flexibility and reach, strong pipeline and capital management, market knowledge at the state level, and unique offerings for specific segments of the market (e.g. utilities, residential, and commercial)," said the report.

The Department of Defense (DOD) is an area where U.S. companies might succeed if they have the resources. The DOD is expected to spend over $10 billion on green tech by 2030. A portion of that is designated for a massive effort to install solar at over 100 bases, including the planned 500-megawatt concentrated solar installation at Fort Irwin in the Mojave Desert.

Partnerships with financiers, local installers, and marketers will also be key in getting adoption.

The PWC report also suggested a strategy that may already seem obvious to many.

It recommends that companies develop a "Made in the USA" approach by locating a portion of manufacturing in the U.S. in order to win more U.S. customers looking to support the U.S. economy as a way to compete against foreign solar companies. It's an approach that some companies have already tried in Europe with its "Made in the EU" solar campaigns. U.S.-based First Solar was granted that option after moving some manufacturing into Germany.