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Report: TN Solar Industry Growing Fast

December 08, 2011

Tennessee Solar Institute releases first comprehensive assessment of state's solar industry

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. – Tennessee's solar industry is growing fast—and offers ample opportunities for economic development. Those are among the findings of the first statewide attempt to capture a high-level view of Tennessee's solar power industry.

The report, released today by the Tennessee Solar Institute (TSI), details the growth of the state's solar sector, and identifies specific needs that must be met if Tennessee's solar sector is to reach its full potential.

Tennessee's Solar Value Chain: A Workforce Development Needs Assessment identifies more than 200 organizations in Tennessee's solar industry, including 174 for-profit and 62 non-profit entities. Since 2008, 33 new entrants have joined Tennessee's solar value chain, with 15 setting up shop in 2010 alone.

"With companies old and new investing and innovating, the solar sector is putting some of our 297,000 unemployed Tennesseans back to work, while growing our state's economy and capturing a bigger slice of the $240 billion global clean energy market," said John Sanseverino, Ph.D., director of programs at TSI.

In addition to start-ups, well-established companies are diversifying into solar markets. For example, Shoals Technologies Group in Portland used to supply auto parts to Bosch, Delphi and others. In 2003, looking for new opportunities, Shoals started supplying First Solar with plug and play solutions for solar farms. Today, 100 percent of Shoals Technologies' business is tied to solar power. The company employs about 300 people at its Portland factories, exports 75 to 80 percent of what it makes, and ships parts made in Tennessee all around the world— to India, to Germany, and even to China.

Sharp Electronics is another example. In 2000, its Memphis factory switched from making TVs and microwaves to assembling solar panels. The plant's work force has grown from 120 people in 2003, to 400 people today. And in 2010, the two millionth solar panel rolled off the line.

TSI's report finds the solar energy industry is fueling small business growth in Tennessee. Of the firms in Tennessee's solar value chain, 58 percent have 25 employees or less, and 78 percent employ 100 people or less, Small businesses employ half of all American workers, and generally create 65 percent of new jobs.

A case in point: Diversified Power International in Piney Flats. Technical and grant support from TSI allowed the company to move manufacturing, research and development from Taiwan to Tennessee. Along with that move came 40 jobs as of this year—up 14 from 2010.

"Since I started Diversified Power International, I envisioned a time when we could move all of our manufacturing and research from overseas to Tennessee," said DPI's president, Tony Trigiani. "This ensures our research and other proprietary information doesn't end up being used somewhere else."

Tennessee's growing solar industry is attracting entrepreneurs, who in turn foster innovation throughout the solar supply chain. TSI found that 18 entrepreneurs in Tennessee's solar industry have taken steps to protect their intellectual property.

And Tennessee's solar industry is even fueling business growth outside of the supply chain. Ted Wampler, president of Wampler's Farm Sausage, installed two solar systems at his facility in Lenoir City with generation capacity topping 500 kW. He says solar energy is saving him money that he is able to reinvest in his company.

TSI says feedback from businesses points to specific needs that must be met if the state's solar sector is to keep growing and reach its full potential. These needs include workforce development, general business operations, and manufacturers' training needs.

The needs expressed by manufacturing firms center on improving their operations and competitiveness in a global market. Sixty-three percent of respondents identified employee training as a significant issue within the manufacturing sector.

TSI notes that full implementation of Governor Haslam's Jobs4TN plan, together with Oak Ridge National Lab and University of Tennessee initiatives like TN-SCORE (Tennessee Solar Conversion and Storage using Outreach, Research and Education) and TSI, would further strengthen the solar manufacturing sector.

The next phase of TSI's work will focus on understanding capacity and demand for solar products and on identifying bottlenecks and other issues that must be addressed to ensure continued growth of Tennessee's solar value chain. This information will drive further strategic planning and organizational initiatives, with an eye toward long-term industry sustainability.

Read the report factsheet or read the full report.

About TSI:

The Tennessee Solar Institute was launched in 2010 as part of the State of Tennessee's Volunteer State Solar Initiative--a comprehensive solar energy and economic development program that focuses on job creation, education, renewable power production, and technology commercialization efforts. TSI's grant programs have leveraged more than $40.3 million in private investments, with a total cumulative benefit to the state's economy in excess of$63.8 million. For more information and to read the full report, visit: http://solar.tennessee.edu/.

The report, done in conjunction with UT's Center for Industrial Services, identified and targeted a total of 236 forprofit Tennessee solar firms. Seventy companies across the state responded to the survey conducted via internet survey and site visits, which constitutes a statistically significant sample. For the purposes of the survey, the solar value chain utilized the standard industry model of the six defined parts of the chain: research and development, materials, manufacturing, distribution, installation, and service.

This material is based upon work supported by the Department of Energy under Award Number DE-EE0000160. CDFA 81.041


Disclaimer: "This report was prepared as an account of work sponsored by an agency of the United States Government. Neither the United States Government nor any agency thereof, nor any of their employees, makes any warranty, express or implied, or assumes any legal liability or responsibility for the accuracy, completeness, or usefulness of any information, apparatus, product, or process disclosed, or represents that its use would not infringe privately owned rights. Reference herein to any specific commercial product, process, or service by trade name, trademark, manufacturer, or otherwise does not necessarily constitute or imply its endorsement, recommendation, or favoring by the United States Government or any agency thereof. The views and opinions of authors expressed herein do not necessarily state or reflect those of the United States Government or any agency thereof."