US solar manufacturing: What companies are doing to make the industry thrive?

First Solar spends over US$1 billion on US materials and services annually. Credit: First Solar

The US has been adding installed solar capacity as the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA) said it expects the solar industry to nearly triple in the next five years. In the first half of 2023, there is a cumulative installed capacity of 153GWdc in the US. The SEIA even expects this figure to grow to 375GWdc by the end of 2028. 

With an ambitious goal of increasing the installed solar capacity, the US is also increasing its solar manufacturing capacity. According to SEIA and Wood Mackenzie, there have been a series of announcements for new solar manufacturing facilities across the supply chain stemming from the Inflation Reduction Act’s (IRA) manufacturing provisions and the anticipated increases in solar demand.

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If the announced plans for module manufacturing facilities materialise, the US, including Puerto Rico, would increase its total capacity from 10.6GW in 2022 to 108.5GW in 2026. The huge increase in manufacturing capacity cannot be achieved without the expanded manufacturing sector in the US. 

Earlier this year, PV Tech reported that solar manufacturing jobs in the US will more than triple in the next ten years, growing from about 35,000 jobs today to 120,000 by 2033, according to SEIA. 

The association said investing in the solar supply chain is also an investment in American energy independence, diversifying its energy mix and reducing reliance on foreign energy sources. 

Recruitment strategy

Multiple solar companies, including Baywa r.e., have module assembly plants in the US. Alexandra Cabral, head of human resources for Americas at the company, says the firm is actively diversifying its workforce by recruiting professionals from various backgrounds, although the majority of its current workforce is in field construction jobs.

“We currently employ nearly 800 individuals in the US, operating across solar and wind development, operations, maintenance services, solar distribution, and engineering, procurement, and construction (EPC) contracting,” she says. 

When a potential candidate boasts expertise in the solar industry, they will be highly more competitive than their counterparts who don’t have such knowledge and experience. However, Cabral says candidates with less experience can also succeed as not all positions require this specific experience.

“We value a diverse range of skills and expertise. Individuals with backgrounds in areas such as insurance, real estate management, logistics, and more can find valuable roles within the renewable energy sector. Furthermore, non-field positions such as accounting, communications, and project management also have transferable skills that are highly sought-after.

“This holistic approach reflects the versatility of the industry, contributing to economic growth,” Cabral adds. 

Training and staff retention

Solar companies also have the responsibility to provide adequate training. BayWa r.e. facilitates the exchange of solar and wind expertise through in-person or online programmes, encouraging insights, ideas and knowledge to flow among colleagues across the APAC, AMER and EMEA regions.

Apart from BayWa r.e., Solar Module Super League member First Solar also invests in a largely American supply chain for its US manufactured PV modules, therefore producing its thin-film cadmium telluride (CadTel) Series 7 modules with more than 90% domestic content.

In its Sustainability Report 2023, First Solar says it spends over US$1 billion on US materials and services annually, supporting jobs in industries such as glass producers, steel producers, silica miners, soda ash miners, research scientists, truck drivers, and logistics workers.

“These industries that have historically been the lifeblood of the American economy are finding new purpose in the American Solar supply chain,” the company says.

Last year, First Solar had 5,500 full time and part time employees, up from 4,800 in 2021 due to its manufacturing expansion in Ohio. About 79% of First Solar’s employees worked in manufacturing, and the remainder of employees were in research and development, quality and reliability, sales, and general and administrative positions.

Moreover, First Solar’s training academy is available to all our employees from every level. Some hourly production operators became manufacturing managers and plant managers after receiving adequate training.

Retaining existing employees is equally important to every solar company as this could prevent the loss of experience and even the inability to meet business goals.

Therefore, First Solar provides a Global Career Framework for employees’ growth and development and a pay-for-performance model, rewarding employees for achieving goals and associated metrics. The framework also describes career pathways and job and skill requirements, and facilitates talent movement.

At BayWa r.e., Cabral defines retention as “providing a healthy environment where all team members can thrive”.

“Our Global Engagement Survey has been an important tool to allow employees to share about the wins and failures of our working culture and their lived experience of fair opportunities for development,” Cabral says.

Looking ahead, the solar industry in the US will likely continue to thrive, addressing multiple issues such as energy independence, economic growth, jobs, and environmental stewardship.

“While we can’t predict industry-wide growth, we are confident on a positive solar growth outlook and as the industry keeps growing,” Cabral concludes.

Our publisher Solar Media is hosting the 10th Solar and Storage Finance USA conference, 7-8 November 2023 at the New Yorker Hotel, New York. Topics ranging from the Inflation Reduction Act to optimising asset revenues, the financing landscape in 2023 and much more will be discussed. See the official site for more details.   
27 June 2024
9am BST
FREE WEBINAR -This special webinar will take a deep dive into the latest PV ModuleTech Bankability Ratings pyramid, capturing the relative bankability status of the top 70-80 PV module suppliers globally. In addition to revealing the latest ranking of global PV module suppliers, PV Tech’s Head of Research, Finlay Colville, will show the depth of analysis and commentary included within the report for module suppliers. A key output from the webinar will be to learn which PV module suppliers have moved up the rankings pyramid in recent years and why this growth has been achieved. Conversely, some of the companies that have fallen down the rankings will be discussed, in particular those suffering from market-share losses and financial problems.
8 October 2024
San Francisco Bay Area, USA
PV Tech has been running an annual PV CellTech Conference since 2016. PV CellTech USA, on 8-9 October 2024 is our second PV CellTech conference dedicated to the U.S. manufacturing sector. The event in 2023 was a sell out success and 2024 will once again gather the key stakeholders from PV manufacturing, equipment/materials, policy-making and strategy, capital equipment investment and all interested downstream channels and third-party entities. The goal is simple: to map out PV manufacturing in the U.S. out to 2030 and beyond.
22 October 2024
New York, USA
Returning for its 11th edition, Solar and Storage Finance USA Summit remains the annual event where decision-makers at the forefront of solar and storage projects across the United States and capital converge. Featuring the most active solar and storage transactors, join us for a packed two-days of deal-making, learning and networking.
17 June 2025
Napa, USA
PV Tech has been running PV ModuleTech Conferences since 2017. PV ModuleTech USA, on 17-18 June 2025, will be our fourth PV ModulelTech conference dedicated to the U.S. utility scale solar sector. The event will gather the key stakeholders from solar developers, solar asset owners and investors, PV manufacturing, policy-making and and all interested downstream channels and third-party entities. The goal is simple: to map out the PV module supply channels to the U.S. out to 2026 and beyond.

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