Attention U.S. Department of Commerce: your well-intentioned efforts to help the U.S. solar panel manufacturing industry are not working.
Even with 30%+ tariffs on imported solar panels and cells, the remaining U.S. manufacturers are struggling to stay competitive. The good news, as one would expect, is that there is strong demand for Made in the U.S.A. solar panels – both from ordinary consumers as well as government purchases. However, structural issues with the supply chain for solar components puts the remaining U.S. manufacturers at a substantial disadvantage.
The reasons for these supply chain challenges are simple. Basically, many of the key components that go into solar modules are not manufactured in the U.S., including wafers, cells, EVA and junction boxes. And many of the components that are indeed available in the U.S. — such as glass, backsheets and aluminum frames — are significantly less expensive at comparable quality levels if purchased from overseas suppliers. To make matters even worse, these essential imported solar components are subjected to additional tariffs when imported from certain countries. Essentially, we are shooting ourselves in our foot if we expect U.S. solar manufacturers to be competitive when 30%+ tariffs are applied to most of the major solar components.
A rational plan to make the U.S. competitive in solar manufacturing does not require government support. Instead, it requires government to get out of the way and set a long-term solar manufacturing policy. U.S. manufacturers would instantly be more competitive if they did not have to pay tariffs on imported solar components — particularly cells and aluminum solar frames. Once the U.S. solar manufacturing base is re-established and consistent, U.S. manufacturers could invest in domestic wafer, cell, junction box and other component manufacturing.
How are U.S. manufacturers coping with competitive global issues of cell production and purchasing, U.S. production costs, cell and panel tariffs, local and federal regulations, and shifting national policies? The best way to answer this question is to speak with one of the most experienced U.S. solar panel manufacturers. My guest on this week’s show is Mamun Rashid, COO of Auxin Solar, based in San Jose, California. Auxin manufactures high quality poly and mono solar panels for residential and commercial customers. They also do original equipment manufacturing for tier-1 manufacturers who have “made in the USA” requirements. Please listen up to this week’s Energy Show for Mamun’s perspective on the opportunity and challenges for companies manufacturing solar panels in the U.S.
The bad news about global warming continues unabated. This fall the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (fondly referred to as the IPCC) sent up an emergency flare. According to Amjad Abdulla an IPCC board member and chief negotiator for the Alliance of Small Island States, “The report shows that we only have the slimmest of opportunities remaining to avoid unthinkable damage to the climate system that supports life, as we know it.“ Obviously, small island states are at the most immediate risk. But if the earth’s warming trend continues, many populated areas around the globe will essentially be uninhabitable.
I read the entire report. It’s complex, dense, hard to understand and full of bureaucratese. There were two conclusions in the report that were especially surprising to me. First, unless the world acts immediately and intensively, there is almost no chance that global warming will be less than 1.5 degrees Celsius. The reason is that there is a lot of inertia in the earth’s climate system — we are already on a rapid warming trend. The second conclusion is that an immediate worldwide investment of roughly $900 billion per year will be required to stay below this 1.5% threshold.
On a positive note, I learned a lot of new TLAs (Three Letter Acronyms). My personal belief is that our grandchildren will be saddled with the economic and sociological disruptions that global warming will cause. Nevertheless, there is a large portion of our population that remains skeptical about global warming and its potential impacts. One reason for this global warming divide relates to economics. Some industries — particularly those dependent on fossil fuels — will be negatively impacted (“harmed” is the non-bureaucratic term). On the other hand there will be many industries that will benefit…not only solar and wind, but also from all the jobs created from the transition away from fossil fuels: EVs, heat pumps, more extensive electrical infrastructure, control systems and as yet undeployed new energy technologies.
As an solar enthusiast, I’m obviously biased. But the consequences of global warming are so severe that even the skeptics should consider immediate action as a form of an insurance policy. In case the skeptics are wrong about global warming, an investment now can avoid a disaster later. For more about the IPCC’s recommendations to stabilize and reverse global warming, listen to this week’s Energy Show.
One of my favorite Hemingway books is “The Sun Also Rises.” It’s about Spain, bull fighting and a group of lost generation friends in Paris in the 1920s. But this show is an energy podcast, not a book report. So with apologies to Ernest Hemingway — here in California — the sun also rises. But it rises at night with battery storage.
Governor Brown recently signed into law a bill called SB 700, which establishes an additional $800 million dollars of incentives for behind the meter battery storage. These incentives, part of the Self Generation Incentive Program (SGIP), are designed for both commercial and residential systems. SGIP is the biggest battery storage incentive program in the U.S. For the past year and a half, our battery storage customers have been using SGIP funding to reduce the costs of their combined solar and storage systems.
These incentive programs don’t appear automatically. The California Solar and Storage Association (CALSSA) worked for three years to finally get this storage incentive passed. Bernadette Del Chiaro, Executive Director of CALSA, explains the key reason for these storage incentives: “What we’re trying to do is create a mainstream market for energy storage — just like we’ve done for solar photovoltaic systems.”
Why did it take so long? There was intense opposition from electric utility business interests who do not want customers storing their own energy, just as they do not want their customers generating their own solar power. Utilities benefit financially when they install their own “grid-sized” batteries on their side of the meter, just as they benefit from large utility scale solar farms. From an overall perspective we still need utilities, not necessarily for electricity generation, but primarily for long distance transmission and local distribution of electricity.
Utilities have provided a terrific service to the world for over 100 years. Now, with inexpensive solar and batteries, utility customers can install their own generation and storage systems. To learn more about why the Sun also Rises At Night with Batteries, Listen to this week’s Energy Show.
We take it for granted that you can install solar on your home or business anytime, just as you can make any other energy saving improvement. Unfortunately, the reality is there are a host of restrictions on solar and battery storage. Many of these restrictions are due to arbitrary regulations (solar panels cannot be visible from the street), as well as rules promulgated by utilities to maximize their profits. Riddle me this, Solarman: why does your local utility encourage you to install an 8 kw EV charger, but makes it extremely complicated (sometimes impossible) to install a 2 kw rooftop solar system?
Incumbent industries have economic power behind them. Utilities spend hundreds of millions of dollars to suppress competition from rooftop solar, compared to the million or so dollars spent by most state solar industries. But polls show that 95% of the population favors solar. Although the solar industry is at a financial disadvantage, there are tens of millions of people in the U.S. that benefit – either directly or indirectly – from the solar industry. The challenge is organizing this grass roots army to advocate for cleaner and and more affordable energy sources.
The Solar Rights Alliance was founded to empower these millions of solar citizens. Its mantra is everyone should have the right to generate his or her own power directly from the sun — and that no monopoly or special interest should try to block or own the sun.
Our special guest on this week’s Energy Show is Dave Rosenfeld, Executive Director of the Solar Rights Alliance. He’s spent his career building movements and institutions that expand freedom, liberty and justice including work with the National Public Radio, The Public Interest Research Group, and the Public Interest Network. Grass roots advocacy has been effective in making many big changes in our democracy, and Dave is working hard to deploy this growing army of solar enthusiasts to make solar cost effective and available to everyone.
These days you can’t watch TV, read a news story or listen to the radio without seeing catastrophic fires, hurricanes, and high temperatures. The world is getting hotter. To illustrate, Death Valley recorded the hottest month ever recorded on Earth. Temperatures averaged 108.1 degrees day and night, all of July 2018. That beat last year’s record monthly temperature. This is not just a U.S. only story, it’s a worldwide issue. During the month of July 2018 record high temperatures were set on every single continent in the northern hemisphere (it was winter in the southern hemisphere).
Politicians, policymakers and leaders all over the world created the Paris Climate Agreement in 2016 — which every country in the world joined except for outcast Syria. Syria stepped up to the Paris Climate Agreement in 2017 — and then during the same year President Trump withdrew from the Agreement. The U.S. is the only country in the world that is not a signatory of the Paris Climate Agreement, the intention of which is to avoid a likely slow motion global warming disaster. We have been euphemistically describing this problem as “climate change.” Yes, the climate is changing, and it is getting hotter. So I am back to describing this looming catastrophe as “global warming.”
There are a few scientists who still believe that this global warming is not caused by mankind, is part of a natural cycle, or is not really a problem (Iceland could be the new Costa del Sol). Nevertheless, according to ongoing temperature analyses conducted by climate scientists at the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies, the average global temperature on Earth has increased by about .8 degree Celsius which is 1.4 degrees Fahrenheit since 1880. Two thirds of the warming has incurred since 1975 at a rate of .15 to .2 degrees per decade. Natural processes are generally not linear — this warming is speeding up. We may be getting close to a tipping point at which global warming dramatically accelerates, flooding coastal areas and creating conditions so hot in many countries that humans can no longer survive.
Please Listen up to this week’s Energy Show as we share various scientific and media perspectives on global warming. It’s time to panic and act.
Electric utilities got their start in the U.S. in the 1880s. Thomas Edison began transmitting DC power as he literally illuminated the world. Then George Westinghouse (with help from Nikolai Tesla) deployed a better way of delivering electricity with AC power. Both Edison and Westinghouse went on to build tremendously successful companies, aptly named General Electric and Westinghouse Electric respectively. Although dominant in the 20th century, both companies have struggled in the 21st century.
Without a doubt utilities strive to deliver reliable and affordable power all over the world. But new technologies — particularly wind, solar and battery storage — are making the conventional utility business model obsolete. Customers are able to purchase and maintain their own power plants for less money than it costs a utility to centrally generate power and transmit it to every building. There is no doubt in my mind that over the next 20 years we will transition to a network of microgrids supported by some type of intelligent power distribution system.
What we knew and (some of us) loved about conventional utilities is changing. And utilities are fighting back — hard — to maintain their power supply monopoly. So here are Ten Electric Utility Company Myths — some of which were based on fact, and some were simply PR spin.
1. Myth: Utility profits are decoupled from selling electricity
2. Myth: Solar shifts costs to disadvantage ratepayers
3. Myth: Utilities support energy efficiency, we offer rebates
4. Myth: Utilities like EVs. They get to sell a lot more electricity
5. Myth: Utilities like Solar and Battery Storage
6. Myth: Utilities are a public monopoly working for ratepayers
7. Myth: Solar reduces electricity costs
8. Myth: Safety is a utility’s #1 concern
9. Myth: public utilities are the only way to provide reliable and affordable electricity
10. Myth: Solar will disrupt the grid at high penetration levels
Listen up to this week’s Energy Show as we go into detail on each of these myths — and explain their implications on ratepayers and competing power industries.
California continues to lead the country when it comes to clean and inexpensive energy. Here is an example – In May the California Energy Commission passed a rule that goes into effect on January 1, 2020 that requires solar on all new homes. The rule applies to all new homes, apartments and condos under three stories tall. The rule also includes an option to include an energy storage system (which we believe will become a standard feature with all solar systems).
We have received a number of calls and emails from people both in favor of and against this new rule since it was passed. What we really like about this new rule is that new home buyers will definitely save money. We’ve done hundreds of installations on new homes and the monthly energy savings are always more than the monthly mortgage increase. Always.
According to data from the California Energy Commission, the cost of a new solar system would be an extra $40 per month on a typical mortgage. And that’s without the tax credit. The monthly savings on the homeowner’s electric bill would be $80 per month. So the net monthly savings is $40 per month, or almost $500 per year. So every new home that has solar on it is going to come out almost $500 cash flow positive every year. Based on our installation experiences, I think the CEC’s cost numbers are on the high side and savings number are low – so the benefits are even better. This New Solar Homes Mandate is good for home buyers, and will increase the awareness of solar on existing residential rooftops.
But there are some negatives about this new rule. Some people have a visceral reaction against mandates. They simply don’t want to be told what to do. Moreover, adding solar will slightly increase the cost of a new home. Nevertheless, our government mandates things like seat belts, clean air, new home warranties and energy efficiency. By mandating popular consumer safety and efficiency benefits, costs generally come down for everyone, to the overall benefit of society. For more about California’s New Solar Homes Mandate, Listen Up to this week’s Energy Show.
Laws and regulations have a tremendous influence on our energy use. The price of electricity, taxes on gas, regulations on building and appliance efficiency, costs for mass transit, highway tolls — all these costs of daily life are dictated by policies created by State and Federal legislators and government administrators. These policies are developed with input from private citizens and businesses.
California has the best policies for clean and renewable energy in the country. And by no accident, because in general that is what both businesses and citizens want. The Silicon Valley Leadership Group (SVLG) is one of the most influential business advocacy groups in California and Washington, DC. They worked hand-in-hand with SEIA. CALSSA, NRDC and other environmental advocacy groups in favor of solar, cap and trade, renewable portfolio standards and energy storage.
Our guest on this week’s Energy show is Tim Tim McRae, Vice President of Energy at SVLG. Tim is an attorney with a strong background in energy and environmental policy. Listen Up as Tim explains SVLG’s efforts on behalf of our energy supply, grid modernization, GHG reductions, transportation improvements, and affordable housing for California residents.