Solar is said to be dominating new US cleantech jobs while solar manufacturers are set for record shipments in the second quarter.  Solar patents are off the charts.

According to Environmental Entrepreneurs (E2) the number of new cleantech jobs doubled in the second quarter as compared to the first quarter.  The jump in clean energy jobs is said to be based on market certainty and a confidence in the future of clean energy. The EPA's new Clean Power Plan, which is designed to cut carbon pollution, along with greenhouse gas reductions in California, are cited as being prime factors in this industry confidence.

Leading solar states - Arizona, California, New York and Massachusetts - are set to see significant hiring in the solar sector. These states along with Michigan, Utah, Nevada, New Mexico, North Dakota, and North Carolina make up the top 10 in Clean energy and Clean transport jobs according to E2. These states differ slightly from those with the most installed solar electric per capita

according to the Environment America Research & Policy Center with Colorado, Delaware, New Jersey, and Hawaii being added while those states with the newer PV programs  (e.g., New York) are missing among those with the most installed capacity. These top 10 states have 26% of the US population but support 87% of the country's total installed solar capacity.  A meteoric rise in solar is supported by a 60% drop in the installed cost of solar in the last three years.  As of the second quarter over a half a million homes and businesses are generating electricity using solar energy.  

A list of states with the most solar technology patents differs some more relative to the states with the most solar jobs and most installed panels - with the top solar patent states from 2013 listed below according to the Clean Energy Patent Growth Index:

Click here to view the image.

Looking at these different sources, a pattern emerges where California leads all others in solar of all types while Colorado and Massachusetts run strong and New York is on the rise.

A record number of solar panels are set to be shipped this year by the likes of Trina Solar, First Solar, JinkoSolar, Canadian Solar and JA Solar.  Other large panel manufacturers expected to have good years include Hanwha Solar One and Solarworld AG. A record 52 gigawatts are expected to be installed this year up from 40.3 gigawatts in 2013 with the top seven panel manufactures expected to ship about 20 gigawatts. These large solar panel makers are expected to ship 52 percent more panels between them than last year.  China, Japan and the US are expected to drive more than half of this growth.

Other than First Solar, these top manufacturers do not appear to be serious players in the patenting or R&D game.  Total solar R&D dollars invested appears to have declined, as has spending on standby crystalline silicon research which appears to have peaked in 2011 according to an analysis by PV Tech.  Leading PV manufacturers' R&D spending declined in 2013.  Of the 12 leading PV manufacturers, First Solar increased its R&D spending while the large crystalline silicon PV makers dropped their spending as a group. Several of these (i.e., SunPower, SolarWorld, ReneSola and Yingli) spent more than US$45 million while others (i.e., Trina Solar, JA Solar, Hanwha SolarOne, REC Solar, Canadian Solar and JinkoSolar) spent less than half that.  

As reported by the Clean Energy Patent growth Index, Solar patents dominated all others in 2013 followed by longtime leader Fuel Cells as depicted in the chart below:

Click here to view the image.

Further, the entities receiving solar patents in 2013 differ significantly from those actually shipping panels and those spending (or not spending) on R &D as described above.  

Click here to view the image.

First Solar is the exception in that it is shipping many panels, doing R&D and receiving patents-making the top 11 Solar patent owners in 2013 as depicted.  Of course it is also the only thin film solar company in a sea of those working in crystalline silicon.  SunPower was the other large panel manufacturer making a good showing among 2013 solar patent grantees with a second place finish. Others in the solar patent elite for 2013 include some which don't come immediately to mind when solar technology comes up including IBM and Dupont.

  
It thus appears that the largest solar manufacturers are not those that are doing the R &D and thus the patenting.  Solar patenting is not as dominated by the big guys as some of the other cleantech sectors with less patents needed to take the CEPGI crown and more players in the field.  It is worth pointing out that despite an explosion in Solar patents (there were more solar patents in 2013 than any other sector of the CEPGI), no Solar-centric firm cracked the top ten in granted U.S. Clean Energy patents and the number of granted solar patents providing a win  is not great as compared to the totals:

Click here to view the image.

As indicated, Samsung took the annual solar patent crown with only 31 patents.  In comparison GM took the most clean energy patents in 2013 with 169 clean energy patents and of those had 128 Fuel Cell patents to take the crown.  GE dropped over 90 wind patents compared to last year but still took this crown with 66, and Toyota edged out Ford by one to take the Hybrid/Electric Vehicle lead in 2013 with 46 HEV patents.  As indicated, taking the solar lead required less patents than the other sectors.   

As is evident from the patent totals of the annual winners of the other technologies (above and below), the Solar industry, or at least Solar Research & Development, is less concentrated than the others. This results in a much lower annual total providing a win to the annual patent crown leader in Solar - Samsung in the case of 2013.  In fact, over 600 different entities were granted Solar patents in 2013 with about half that many entities receiving Fuel Cell and Wind patents according to the CEPGI.  


The drop in R&D investment described above is predicted to be short lived as a booming PV industry this year should lead to more R&D in 2015 which could lead to more patents down the road.  It remains to be seen if the down year of 2013 in solar R&D will also lead to short lived drop in solar patents being granted.  It may be that some of the large panel manufacturers are not as important relative to future solar tech and patenting.  The top 10 solar panel manufacturers only account for a small number of the total patents granted in 2013, and thus, the increase or decrease in research and development money spent by these companies may not really tell us the whole story of what is happening in solar technology.  It may still be the little guys or at least the littler guys in solar (IBM being the exception making the rule) that drives solar tech in the long run.