As I write this I am preparing to board a very long flight to China, where I’ll be talking to a few Chinese PV module manufacturers, as well as our existing inverter supplier, Motech, in Taiwan. This will be a chance to meet and greet potential future suppliers on their own ground, and review factories as we consider sourcing more materials from China, but there are many things I already know before embarking.
New York Times Columnist, Tom Friedman is right. China is investing heavily and preparing to leave the rest of the renewable energy world in the dust. In the past two weeks Suntech, currently the largest solar module manufacturer in the world, signed 2 GW (2000 MW) of projects in China. Those 2 GW represent merely the contracts of a single company. Last year – and likely this year – the total U.S. market is 350 MW (0.35 GW). Granted, not all the Chinese projects happen this year, but plans are on paper – there is a schedule.
Yes they have a labor advantage, but China is also pumping a lot of money into R&D in order to make the next generation of renewable energy products, and they are succeeding.
The U.S. does not have a command and control economic system, nor am I suggesting that it should. But when it comes to alternative energy, we can learn a lot from China’s strategies – regardless of differences in our economic systems. China is telling their banks to support PV companies with strong loans, both for domestic and foreign. So the real irony is that I am going to China not just to find products, but to find financing (preliminarily offered) to install those products in the US. The engine for job creation in the US may well be Chinese bank project funding. Meanwhile, U.S. banks are still waiting on a loan guarantee program, which was promised six months ago, is guaranteed to be complex and may not even work. The last U.S. loan guarantee program failed.
The demand for solar exists. The need for action exists. All that’s missing is political will, and streamlined policies that will strengthen our economy, create jobs, save the environment and, in the long term, decrease the cost of living. It’s time for the U.S. to lead; we just need leaders with vision, who will quickly put that vision into action.
Photo Credit: Matthijs Koster via Flickr under Creative Commons License