Solar Cells Info

Your Ad Here

Pagevisits since Nov. 8,2006:

Solar Cells, Automation and Green Jobs

By R.M. Schneiderman, GreenInc -New York Times /July 20, 2009

SolarAgence France-Presse Analysts suggest that the production of solar cells will need to become more automated if the industry is to become truly competitive.  Aside from its environmental benefits, solar energy is frequently touted for its job creation potential. But for solar manufacturers themselves, machines — not employees — may be the key to their long-term survival.

Take, for example, photovoltaic solar panels — the most common form of solar technology. As Roger Efird, the managing director of the United States branch of Suntech Power, a solar energy company based in China, the process of making these cells is already largely automated. But, he added, the process of taking the individual solar cells and connecting them to create a solar panel is sometimes done by machines, and sometimes by hand, depending on the company and the factory.

According to Jesse Pichel, a clean tech analyst at Piper Jaffray, companies in developing countries (including China) typically rely on workers to perform this task, because human labor is frequently cheaper than automation technology. To stay competitive, therefore, manufacturers in Europe, Japan and the United States — where labor costs are significantly higher — will need to employ more automation technology. And Mr. Efird, the Suntech director, pointed out that labor costs will eventually increase in China, too. If Suntech wants to expand into developing markets, he said, they will also need to build factories that employ more automated technologies.

Of course, industry analysts and manufacturers say solar power still holds significant promise for job creation — though mostly on the installation and maintenance side of things. And Mr. Efird and others suggested that, like the heating and air conditioning contractors, solar installation and maintenance jobs are more durable in the long run.  “You cannot export those jobs,” he said. “It’s local people doing local work in local communities.”