Big demand for solar energy runs up against finite panel supply

Global demand for photovoltaic panels is causing months-long delays and price hikes for would-be buyers in the U.S. American suppliers blame a weak dollar, shortages of raw materials, and swelling demand both at home and abroad. The worldwide solar-power market has grown about 40 percent annually in the last five years — driven largely by Germany, where an incentive program allows businesses and individuals to sell excess solar-generated electricity back to utilities at a premium rate. Germany consumes 39 percent of the available solar-panel supply, followed by Japan at 30 percent. The U.S. is in a distant third with 9 percent of the market, but new incentives like California’s pending Million Solar Roofs plan and a tax credit of up to $2,000 in the soon-to-be-signed federal energy bill are expected to spike domestic demand. Says solar sales director Matt Lugar of Sharp Electronics, the supply problems are “a natural evolution in any industry that’s exploding.”