WASHINGTON - U.S. shipments of solar photovoltaic (PV) cells and modules surged ahead by 72 percent in 2005, while shipments of solar thermal collectors increased 10.4 percent, according to a new report. The annual report on solar thermal and PV manufacturing activities, produced by the U.S. Department of Energy's (DOE's) Energy Information Administration (EIA), documents the changing solar energy industry, which is struggling to meet rising demand while dealing with material supply disruptions and rising costs.

The EIA report cites silicon supply disruptions for Shell Solar as the cause for a 10 percent drop in PV exports, a problem that led Shell Solar to sell its crystalline silicon solar business and focus instead on thin-film solar technologies. Meanwhile, a growing U.S. demand for PV systems caused imports to nearly double, reaching a level nearly equal with exports.

Silicon supply concerns also caused crystalline silicon solar cells to lose market share, dropping from 88 percent of the PV market in 2004 to only 76 percent of the market in 2005. The remaining quarter of the PV market was filled by thin-film solar cells, for which shipments more than doubled in 2005. But no matter the technology, the growth in the PV industry is good for employment, which increased 6 percent in 2005.

Publication date: 10/02/2006