The halcyon days of the global solar industry are long gone.
The rapid, incentive-fueled growth the industry enjoyed in 2011 left in its wake a market teaming with cutthroat competitors and a global supply far outweighing demand -- making the solar world a very different industry in 2012.
As the government incentives have begun to dry across Europe and the price of PV panels to plummet, former leaders in the industry -- from technology giants like Siemens (IW 1000/34) to market staples like Centrotherm -- have quietly backed out of the game.
And no one can blame them -- as GTM research notes in a recent report, despite an 18% growth in the global industry in 2012, with panel prices down to impossible lows, the profit margins are too tight for most vertically oriented companies to cope.
Stepping back from the global perspective, however, these industry shake-ups have certain local advantages.
"The solar industry as a whole is going through a revolution," says Alan Lee, CEO of California-based ecoSolargy. "The European countries that used to lead the industry are now in decline and new, up-and-coming solar countries are on the rise."
These "new" solar countries, he says, include Japan, India, Australia and, of course, the U.S. -- a status that has added a much-needed boost to ecoSolargy's business base.
The New Solar Powerhouse?
Tucked into the sunny hills of Irvine, Calif., the solar solution provider and manufacturer has seen quiet, relentless growth over this year, posting 200% gains as its European cousins struggle to meet their margins.
"The U.S. is the up-and-coming solar powerhouse," he says. "There are more homeowners here that are willing to go solar now. To manufacturers all over the world, this is the last best hope for the solar market."
The numbers back him up on this claim. According to a September report by the Solar Energy Industries Association, about 3.2 gigawatts of PV power will have been added to the U.S. power grid by year's end, representing a 71% increase over 2011. As Mike Dooley, vice president of marketing for AE Solar Energy, notes, more wattage is always a good indicator.
"The industry is going through a transformative change right now that has been occurring for the better part of this year," he explains. "This is a sign of a maturing market. It may be accelerating faster than people anticipated, but people definitely saw it coming. The U.S. solar industry is definitely here to stay."