“Do you sell solar panels made in America? I really want to buy American.”

I hear this a lot from people considering going solar. I don’t mind the question at all. I support buying American, too. (Even more, I support buying local, but that’s another blog article.)

It’s not that easy to buy a solar panel that’s 100% manufactured and assembled in the U.S. by American workers at an American company. In fact, I think it’s impossible.

Rather than hunt for the Holy Grail, it can help to ask: Why do you want an American made panel?

If it’s American quality you’re after, you can rest assured there are many high-quality panels to choose from, despite the sometimes justified negative press around Chinese-made panels. Here are some indicators of a company’s commitment to quality:

  • Long warranties, implying faith in their products’ reliability
  • Investment in research and development, suggesting they are in the industry for the long haul, not for a quick buck.
  • Years in business; while not directly tied to quality, chances are companies with longer histories are doing something right.

flag AmericanFor example, SunPower – which is an American company but sources and manufactures its panels overseas — is an R&D leader, has the industry’s best warranties (25 years on system production, 25 years on equipment, and 25 years on service) and has been in business for 30 years.

If your real concern is supporting U.S. jobs and the U.S. economy, there are a bunch of questions to be asked so you can piece together the whole picture and inform your decision.

Where is the company headquartered?

Surprisingly few solar panel manufacturers are based in the U.S.  First Solar is headquartered in Arizona, Suniva is in Georgia, and SunPower is in California. But SolarWorld, commonly mistaken for a U.S. company, is headquartered in Bonn, Germany. Find out who owns the company you’re considering, and where that parent company is based, if this matters to you.

How many U.S. employees does the company have?

In today’s global economy, even a U.S.-based company is likely to have at least some jobs overseas. On the other hand, a company based overseas might employ a significant number of Americans in U.S. facilities. (Think Toyota.)

SunPower employs more than 1,000 people in the U.S., which is twice as many as SolarWorld and considerably more than Suniva, based on available information. (It’s hard finding concrete data on some of these topics.)

eagleWhere does the company get its panel components from?

Solar cells are manufactured all over the world, but most seem to come from Asia. A lot of them come from China and Taiwan. SunPower sources its solar cells from Malaysia and the Philippines

Where are the panels assembled?

It’s hard to find a company that assembles all of its solar panels in U.S facilities. The now defunct Evergreen Solar out of Marlborough, Mass., struggled to be one of the first, but couldn’t match the low prices of panels made overseas, mainly in China. When they tried anyway, they went bankrupt, in 2011. SunPower is faring better, assembling and selling 77% of its panels in North America.

I hope that helps in your quest to put American solar panels on your roof…or to get quality products…or to support the U.S. economy and job market.

 

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