A new report shows that China, considered the looming threat for competitors in the renewable energy business, may not stand a chance against the booming American solar sector.

Written by the Solar Energy Industries Association and GTM Research, US Solar Energy Trade Assessment 2011 claims that the US solar industry exported a net of $1.9 billion in solar photovoltaic (PV) and solar heating and cooling (SHC) components in 2010 globally, with $240 million of orders coming directly from China. Total exports totaled more than $5.6 billion, according to the report.

Though the US has continued to buy PV modules from China, the report found that the US was selling China an ever greater value of capital equipment and polysilicon for PV modules.

“In 2010, we grew by over 100%,” said SEIA President and CEO Rhone Resch in a statement. “We achieved a positive trade balance and we exported more goods and services to China than we imported.

The report points to a increasingly complex global market that may ship goods around the world several times before final manufacturing is complete. In the case of solar PV panels, the report’s look at early stages of the supply chain, before the finished product was shipped from China, showed that the US solar industry was actually ahead.

“The PV market is more complex than meets the eye,” said Shayle Kann, managing director of Solar at GTM Research. “To completely understand solar trade flows, this report looks both at earlier steps in the value chain and at non-panel components of a solar PV system.”

Solar Industry Trade Flows, 2010

PV polysilicon is one of the most expensive components of a solar module, prompting some US companies, such as HyperSolar, to try to find ways to manufacture panels with less of the material.

“We believe that by using inexpensive plastic to replace silicon solar cells we can substantially reduce the cost per watt of solar energy,” HyperSolar CEO Tim Young told Breaking Energy recently. He said that 80% of the cost of PV panels comes from the process of processing raw silicon for solar cells, so finding ways to replace the silicon might allow the solar industry to compete in the market without government subsidies. Read more: Solar’s Sunniest Days Still Lie Ahead.

Download the full report, US Solar Energy Trade Assessment 2011, here.

PV Imports and Exports by Source/Destination, 2010