Published on October 16th, 2011 | by Zachary Shahan8
China is Not a Problem, But a Help (When It Comes to Our Solar Power Goals)
Arno Harris of Recurrent Energy has a great post up on National Geographic’s The Greet Energy Challenge that I think anyone interested in clean energy policy should read. Here’s the intro:
Rumors are swirling about the next shoe to drop in the campaign against renewable energy. A handful of struggling solar manufacturers are expected to announce they are joining a petition to the International Trade Commission and the US Department of Commerce (DOC). The petition is expected to allege China unfairly subsidizes solar manufacturers and is ‘dumping’ solar modules on the global market below cost (a view exacerbated by a few high profile solar company bankruptcies I previously wrote about).
A successful petition would be the first step towards imposing tariffs on solar panels imported from China. The announcement is timed to coincide with the start of Solar Power International, the US’s largest solar trade fair taking place next week in Dallas.
Let’s state plainly what’s going on here. A group of manufacturers who can’t compete with today’s solar panel prices are seeking to erect trade barriers to make the US a ‘safe market’ for their own more expensive solar panels. They want to prevent Americans from getting access to low-cost solar panels and low-cost solar electricity so they can sell their own more costly product to them instead.
That’s the gist of it. But Harris goes on to emphasize that we should do everything we can to drive down solar costs (as China is doing) and starting a trade war with China on solar wouldn’t help anyone but those in a few niche solar companies.
As we’ve reported repeatedly on here, the solar energy market is growing tremendously in the U.S. We are a net exporter of solar goods. Why jeopardize that? The industry now provides over 100,000 Americans with jobs (more than the coal industry). Why jeopardize that?
Harris goes on:
This is clearly a tactic in the narrow self-interest of the manufacturers joining the petition. It’s not in the interest of American consumers. It’s not in the interest of ratepayers. It’s not in the interest of our national security. And it’s certainly not in the interest of slowing global climate change.
And, reiterating what I said above about dropping solar costs and what our overall priority should be:
I’ve said it many times, but it’s worth saying again. The best thing we can do is encourage the solar industry to ruthlessly drive down the cost of solar panels. And that’s exactly what the industry has been doing with manufacturing in the US, Europe, China, Malaysia, the Philippines, and beyond. As a result, since 2008 the cost of solar panels has come down by roughly 75% with most of that coming from reductions in silicon commodity costs and manufacturing improvements.
The less solar power costs, the more favorably it compares to conventional power, and the more attractive it becomes to utilities and energy users around the globe. Today’s low cost solar panels are overturning antiquated notions about the limits of solar power and driving a massive wave of new demand for clean solar-generated electricity.
Let’s hope those in power have the sense to not maim a rapidly growing industry that is creating clean, green jobs for more and more Americans.