NREL and MIT Assess China’s Manufacturing Edge

suntechWithin the solar industry, it’s long been understood that China’s advantage in PV manufacturing is due not to lower labor costs but to quickly achieved economies of scale.

Now a study by NREL and MIT confirm that China’s dominance is driven mainly by production scale and supply chain benefits enabled, in part, by preferred access to capital (through indirect government subsidies). The research team found that if comparable scale can be achieved, the advantages of China-based manufacturers could be reproduced in the United States.

The collaborative study, “Assessing the Drivers of Regional Trends in Solar Photovoltaic Manufacturing,” was funded by the Energy Department’s Clean Energy Manufacturing Initiative and published in the peer-reviewed journal Energy & Environmental Science.

The study investigated the factors driving the shift from a global network of manufacturers to a production base that is now largely based in China. “The ‘holy grail’ is an innovative PV module with high efficiency, low material costs, streamlined and scalable manufacturing and unquestionable reliability,” said study co-author and MIT Associate Professor of Mechanical Engineering Tonio Buonassisi.

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