Where Are Solar Panels Made? What To Know Before You Buy
4 - Minute Read
Jun 21, 2022
You’ve probably heard of solar panels, but have you ever wondered or asked, “Where are solar panels made?” The answer to this question is important for multiple reasons, and here’s one of the most important: Where you source your panels can make a significant impact on the sustainability of your project. The more locally sourced the materials, the less energy is spent on transport. It may not surprise you to learn that most solar panels – like so many consumer electronics – are made overseas.
Not all solar panels have originated in other countries, though. Our research indicates that the first-ever solar panel was made in Murray Hill, N.J. in the 1950s. United States companies then went on to manufacture most of the earliest solar panels. In fact, during the 1970s, the U.S. solar industry produced nearly 90% of all solar panels.
As of 2022, though, only one major solar energy company is based in the U.S.
Let’s explore why that matters, especially if sustainability is a major reason for adding a photovoltaic array to your home.
Where Are Most Solar Panels Made?
The majority of top solar manufacturing companies are based in China, which is home to four major companies. Two are headquartered in South Korea, and the U.S., Canada and Singapore are home to one each.
LG, which is well known for many other consumer electronics, is among the companies that make solar panels. Although based in South Korea, LG has a manufacturing plant in the U.S.
The Sustainability Benefits Of American-Made Solar Panels
Sustainability concerns are a great reason to install solar panels, and sourcing your panels from a U.S. factory can help cut down on carbon emissions from transportation.
U.S.-made panels reduce emissions during shipping because they don’t have to travel as far. The same is true if you choose solar panels from a Canada-based company like Canadian Solar. U.S. companies may also have to comply with stricter manufacturing regulations.
What About Ethical Sourcing And Labor Practices?
If you’re concerned about sustainability, ethical sourcing and manufacturing policies may also be important to you. U.S. solar companies must comply with laws restricting forced labor. Some of these laws even apply to materials further down the supply chain.
About that supply chain: Even solar panels built in the U.S. have supply chains leading out of the country’s borders. This means that U.S. factories might use monocrystalline silicon wafers or aluminum frames imported from overseas.
It’s worth noting, though, that the U.S. is diligent about blacklisting companies with potential ethical issues. In 2021, the U.S. banned solar panel material imports from Hoshine Silicon Industry Co. due to concerns about forced labor. The U.S. Department of Commerce also restricted exports to Hoshine, three other Chinese companies and the Xinjiang Production and Construction Corps.
Solar Panel Manufacturers Based In The U.S.
Today, the only major solar panel manufacturer based in the U.S. is SunPower Corporation. SunPower makes more than high-quality solar modules – the company also makes batteries, mounting hardware and monitoring software for residential and commercial installations.
What To Know About SunPower
SunPower, which has operated since 1985, also handles installations and solar leases. The company has plans to spin its manufacturing arm off into a new company called Maxeon Solar. Keep this in mind as you’re asking solar installers about what hardware they use.
There’s a caveat, however: Despite being based in the U.S., SunPower solar panels are made overseas. Even by supporting a U.S.-based company, you may not reduce emissions from shipping by using SunPower products.
Are There Any Solar Panels Made In The U.S.?
Many businesses realize that operating on a global scale means manufacturing in different countries. This is why some foreign solar panel manufacturers are opening factories in the U.S.
Among the solar panel manufacturers with a footprint in multiple countries, including the U.S., are First Solar, Panasonic (through its collaboration with Tesla), Hanwha Q CELLS, JinkoSolar and LG, among others. This list is likely to grow in the future.
Many of these companies are performing final assembly of their panels in the U.S. Some of the earlier stages will still take place overseas.
Remember that not all products from these companies are made in the U.S. Ask your solar installer to help you identify American-made solar panels if this is important to you.
What About Smaller Solar Panel Makers?
Numerous smaller solar power manufacturers are designing and fabricating in the U.S. Some are owned by American companies, while others are subsidiaries of foreign companies.
If your installer has a product from a company that’s unfamiliar to you, ask the installer to provide background information. It’s also best to do some fact-finding of your own.
Are American-Made Solar Panels More Expensive?
It’s possible that American-made solar panels will add to your system cost.
The difference in price is not huge for a project that’s already fairly expensive. Choosing American-made panels will likely increase your payback period. However, you’ll reduce emissions and know that you used ethically sourced materials.
That said, many solar power components manufactured overseas perform well and use the latest technologies while offering a cheaper price.
What Else Matters Besides Where Solar Panels Are Made?
Supporting U.S. manufacturing jobs, especially in the renewable energy sector, is a great goal. It helps move us away from fossil fuels.
Still, some companies do a terrific job of upholding the values of the green economy. You can ask your potential solar installers whether their suppliers are designing products that will likely be recycled. To reduce environmental damage, you can also consider manufacturers with cleaner processes.
SunPower, REC and First Solar have earned a good reputation for recycling and having cleaner manufacturing facilities.
The Bottom Line: U.S.-Made Panels Can Be An Ethical, Sustainable Option
The less distance your solar panels have to travel, the fewer emissions are involved with mounting them on your roof. It’s still wise to do some digging, though, to ensure that your choice of solar panel supplier uses ethical sourcing, recycling and manufacturing practices similar to REC Solar. Many options are available to help you enjoy the benefits of having solar panels built locally.
No matter how you source your solar panels, you’ll discover that the environmental benefits of solar power outweigh the emissions and energy costs of their production.