With each passing day, it seems that renewable energy gets more attention as more and more people realize what scientists have been saying for decades: non-renewable energy is causing us some problems.
American companies jumped into the solar panel manufacturing game decades ago, and since then, quite a few other countries have begun production. The result of all the competition and research has been increased efficiency, better and less expensive solar panels, and a rise to power of the Chinese solar power industry.
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Where Can I Get the Best American Made Solar Panels?
Finding solar panels built in America can be problematic due to global manufacturers and free trade with the US. This article will give you a list of the top 13 American solar panel companies, but you also have the option of consulting in person with a solar power company in your area and inquiring directly with them. They want to make a sale, so they’ll be more than glad to speak with you about your options and help educate you on American solar panels.
Top 13 American Made Solar Panel Companies
Headquartered in Tempe, Arizona, First Solar builds its panels in Malaysia, Vietnam, and the United States. The company prides itself on the efficiency of its photovoltaic (PV) units with an employee workforce of 6,400 people. First Solar posted a 2018 revenue of $2.2 billion.
The company boasts that its technology displaces about 90% of greenhouse gases when used instead of non-renewable energy sources, meaning that First Solar’s carbon footprint is tiny.
As a subsidiary of LG Electronics, LG Solar produces solar panels manufactured in South Korea and Huntsville, Alabama. Parent company LG Electronics calls Lincolnshire, Ill. home and has spearheaded LG Solar’s recent rollout of its next generation of solar panels.
LG Solar currently offers five different types of solar panels, a succession of lines that have evolved over the 30 years in the solar power business. LG’s panels carry a 25-year warranty.
Led by the mercurial Elon Musk, Tesla builds its solar panels in Buffalo, NY. The company is based in Freemont, California, but its manufacturing facilities reside on the east coast.
Its partnership with Panasonic involved building solar cells for Tesla, but that arrangement has changed. Now, Panasonic’s role with Tesla revolves around batteries and other power storage solutions in production in Nevada.
While Tesla does make rooftop solar panels, those do not constitute the bulk of its solar power products.
The star of the Tesla solar lineup is the solar roof, a system in which the entire roof gets topped with, instead of shingles, small solar tiles. The idea is to harness the roof’s total surface area without building additional fixtures on top of a roof. Instead, the solar structures are the roof.
Hanwha Q Cells began in Germany at the end of the 20th century. The Hanwha Group out of South Korea purchased the company in 2012, and it is technically now a South Korean company. Offices still exist in Germany, prompting the company to brand itself “engineered in Germany.”
Q Cell solar cells currently hold the world record (set in 2011) for the highest efficiency at 19.5%. Hanwha facilities can be found in South Korea, Malaysia, China, and the United States.
Panasonic’s solar panel business is in a state of flux. The company announced in mid-2021 that they’d be withdrawing from that marketplace by the second quarter of 2022.
Before this change, panel manufacturing plants ran in Japan and Malaysia. The Japanese-based company built solar energy components at Tesla’s Gigafactory in New Jersey but ended that partnership in 2020. The Malaysian plant will close in early 2022.
Panasonic will continue selling solar panels, though a third-party company will build them and brand them as Panasonic products.
Shanghai, China, serves as the home to Jinko Solar. The company’s panels are built at factories in Florida and Malaysia. Jinko Solar continually ranked as one of the world’s best solar panel manufacturers, although that may change in the future due to factors most likely out of its control.
The United States government blocked the import of silicon-based products from Hoshine Silicon. The order stems from accusations that Hoshine profits from forced labor on the part of Uyghurs, a persecuted ethnic minority in China.
While Hoshine Silicon is not a subsidiary of Jinko Solar, its silicon products figure largely in Jinko Solar’s panels, meaning that production may lag without another source for those materials.
Mission Solar calls San Antonio, Texas home, and from there, they design and build their solar panels. This makes the company compliant with the Buy American Act, its website proudly announces.
Degradation of solar cells within each panel is unavoidable. Mission Solar has worked this into its 25-year warranty, guaranteeing no more than a 0.7% decrease in a panel’s output over one year.
If this rate holds, the warranty (well, and the math) promises that after 25 years of use, a Mission Solar panel will still be operating at slightly more than 80% of its capacity.
|Year||Annual max. decrease (in %)||Output (in %)|
Can your Nissan Altima promise to work 83% as good as new when it’s 25?
Seraphim was founded in 2011 in Changzhou, China. It had spread out globally in less than a decade and now boasts offices on every continent save Antarctica. Currently, it builds the bulk of its solar panels in China with smaller plants in Vietnam and South Africa.
Currently, no Seraphim panel manufacturing plants exist in the United States. In 2015, an American company set out to build Seraphim products in Mississippi and alleged building 160 MW worth of panels annually by 2018.
For reasons that remain unclear, they shut down at that point. Multiple lawsuits involving breach of contract and rights infringement followed. The short version is that the U.S.-based branch never resumed building Serahim panels.
Seraphim itself, though, has never faltered, and the impression one gets when sussing out the whole mess is that the parent company never really had all that much to do with the American end of things. It continues producing and selling panels with no hiccups.
Though one of its founders is Franco Traverso, an Italian giant in solar energy, Silfab is a Canadian-based company that bills its solar panels as “North America’s Leading Solar Manufacturer.” Semantics for the win. Its main offices are in Mississauga, Ontario, Canada, and manufacturing occurs in Washington State and Toronto.
The company partnered with robotics and automotive manufacturing groups to help automate its production facilities, employing just-in-time manufacturing protocols. That cuts down on the need to store inventory, as the mindset flirts with being built-to-order.
Solaria’s US headquarters, located in Freemont, California, also houses a manufacturing plant. Another is located in South Korea. Q Cells now owns one-third of the company.
Solaria’s panels echo the construction of Tesla’s solar roof, and they build them in a configuration they call “shingled.” According to Solaria, this construction allows for higher efficiency in the panels’ outputs.
Hailing from Riviera Beach, Florida, SolarTech Universal, founded in 2012, remains Florida’s only solar panel manufacturer. Along with its headquarters, SolarTech also maintains its production plant in the same city, designing American-made solar panels in America.
The company has developed something of a niche market in the off-grid community. SolarTech panels are purportedly sturdy enough to survive the hard-knock life of living off the grid and out in nature. Durability in this situation would be a pretty big plus.
SunSpark Technology came into being in None, California. Now it calls Riverside home. The offices and manufacturing facilities are there, with no international facilities involved.
They offer one solar panel model that tops out at more than 300 watts. This wattage means that you get more power out of a smaller unit.
In light of this, SunSpark panels might be appropriate for powering a tiny home, something that will have precious little real estate on the roof on which to install panels.
Suniva built a manufacturing plant in Georgia in 2008, making it 100% American-owned and the panels American-made. By 2014, it had expanded to include a Michigan manufacturing facility. They filed for bankruptcy in 2017. After two years, Suniva emerged and is now owned by the New York-based Lion Point Capital.
The 45th President of the United States imposed a tariff on imported solar panels in 2018. Many in the industry attribute this action as the direct result of trade complaints filed by Suniva and another company. They alleged that imports of panels had caused their bankruptcy.
The Difference Between an American Company and American Made
When it comes to where a company is based, the locations of any satellite offices or facilities are irrelevant. The country in which the company is incorporated is considered that company’s home country. An American company, then, is one incorporated in the United States.
When it comes to whether something is American-made, though, it gets a little hazier, and we have to decode labels to know exactly the provenance of the product in question.
- Assembled in USA. This seemingly straightforward statement actually relies on semantics. The parts of something with this label will be imported parts that were only put together in the US. Sure, American workers got paid to assemble it, but it’s not made in America. You could legally apply this to the Lego Millennium Falcon you and your kid built, but no one thinks Lego is American.
- Made in USA. Products with this label will have very few (if any) components not made in the United States. Any part manufactured outside the States cannot be an integral one. For example, if you make a frying pan handle in America and attach it to a pan cast in Luxembourg, you can’t label that pan as Made in the USA. This includes any territories, so something from, say, Puerto Rico qualifies.
- Made in USA with Foreign & Domestic Components. This label states that some parts come from outside the States, but not all. All the pieces were put together in America.
- Distributed, Manufactured, or a Product of. A label like this does not even try to act like it’s something American. If the label says something like, “Distributed by the Oklahoma Furniture Store,” it means just that and only that. It does not state or imply that the American company made or assembled any part of that product.
Isn’t Silicon Used in Solar Panels and Made Overseas?
Some of it is, yes. Most of it gets manufactured in China, followed by Russia in a distant second place. However, there are silicon manufacturers in the United States, although their output is orders of magnitude smaller than China’s.
One wonders if the solar panels built in America could apply the “Made in USA” label since the chances are good that they’re using Chinese-produced silicon. Since silicon is a major component of any solar panel (though not those using the crystalline cells currently showing promise), the label could not be applied.
Does it matter where solar panels are made?
If the solar panel customer has any concerns past the performance and cost of his solar panels, then yes, it matters where solar panels are made. Even a rudimentary understanding of economics will tell anyone that purchasing materials made in America helps bolster the economy, which, in theory, benefits everyone.
Many consumers follow the patriotic angle, believing that buying something made in America over something made elsewhere is just a better action to take.
Some people consider the countries involved in the product in question, the governments of those countries, and the international companies’ practices. Many consumers work to remain conscious of the human rights records of a company’s country of origin and opt-out of purchasing products from countries with bad records in that area.
Others hope to avoid supporting the economies of dictatorships or other repressive governments. And the treatment of workers comes into play in that conscientious consumers often refuse to patronize companies with exploitative labor practices.
Does SunPower still manufacture solar panels?
Sunpower does not build panels any longer. In 2019, the company announced that it would be handing off solar panel production duties to Maxeon Solar, spun off from Sunpower.
Essentially, the company split in two. Sunpower retained the name and said it would focus on energy storage, distribution, and related technology. Maxeon took over the panels side of the business. In late August of 2020, Maxeon shares began trading on NASDAQ.
Who is the largest solar panel manufacturer in the US?
This is a tricky question for reasons that hearken back to mention of where panels are assembled vs. where their components get made.
In addition, we can use several metrics to quantify a company’s size, and depending on which one you choose to go with, you’ll get different answers.
Based on annual sales, First Solar, an Arizona company we’ve already discussed, boasts yearly sales of over $250 million. That’s far and away the highest sales. Unsurprisingly, First Solar also leads in the number of gigawatts sold, which sits at 1.9GW yearly.
If you’re just looking for name recognition and the neat-o factor, the answer would have to be Tesla. The company continues revolutionizing most things it gets involved with, and its solar roof looks great and seems to produce a lot of happy customers and solar power.
Are American solar panels better than foreign solar panels?
A subjective question gets a subjective answer. It’s difficult to answer it definitively because many factors go into what makes a solar panel good or better than another:
3. Quality of materials used
5. Ease of installation
And everyone has his own personal preferences and requirements, for example some require flexibility in their solar panels. However, we can look at some factors that may steer us one way or another.
First, a knee-jerk answer to the query might very well be China since that nation leads the world in the number of solar companies and panels produced annually. They’ve been working harder at it than anyone else, so it may stand to reason that their panels would be better.
Second, since China also has the upper hand on silicon production, their better access to materials may tip the scales in their direction, and conspiracy theorists might even posit that they keep the best silicon for themselves. Conspiracy theorists believe weirder stuff than that.
Finally, the fact that the 45th president slapped a tariff on foreign solar panels might suggest to some that the reason was that American solar panels couldn’t compete with Asian or any other panels without the help of a 30% tariff.
Most things seem to point to the conclusion that American panels are not the very best in the industry, generally speaking.