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Solar panel shortage looms even as manufacturers invest in production

A SolarCity InstallationA SolarCity Installation
A SolarCity employee installs a solar panel. Photo by Bloomberg—Getty Images

The solar industry is bracing for a global drought in photovoltaic panels after a series of high supply years that pushed prices to all-time lows and encouraged installations.

Solar panel adoption is supposed to increase as much as 29% this year, which has top manufacturers and installers anticipating a drop in availability of panels. This would be the first such shortage since 2006 when the nascent solar energy industry was just taking hold, reported Bloomberg News.

Eight years ago, only about 1.5 gigawatts of solar energy capacity was installed. This year as much as 52 gigawatts is expected to be hooked up and another 61 gigawatts in 2015, according to estimates by Bloomberg New Energy Finance.

That is compared with about 70 gigawatts of production capacity currently available, though that estimate could be high since some manufacturers’ equipment is out of date or obsolete.

The shrinking supply could hinder the growing rooftop solar panel industry. The scarce supplies often get routed to larger-scale utility projects and leave the residential side with limited availability.

That has led companies like SunPower and SolarCity to invest in additional production capacity. SunPower (SPWR) plans to open a new factory that will produce at least 700 megawatts a year starting as early as 2017. SolarCity (SCTY), which counts billionaire Elon Musk as its chairman, bought a panel maker in June and plans to focus on solar panels for residential uses.