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Pure Fantasy On Green Manufacturing, Solar Jobs and The Mainstream Media

Over the last 36 months, more than 100 new U.S. renewable energy and energy efficiency manufacturing plants have opened in the United States.

 Reuters reported in a February 28, 2011 article, “The renewable-energy market is still reeling from the ‘toxic legacy of the global financial crisis’ that started in 2008, according to a report by Ernst & Young. Global private sector investments in the renewable energy sector reached a record $243 billion in 2010, an annual increase of 30%”

 On Tuesday, March 29 of this year, The Pew Trust reported that the country is slipping in the clean energy race.

The U.S. competitive position in the clean energy sector is deteriorating, as the country slipped to third place in terms of the amount of private investment directed to the G-20 economies…Until 2008, the U.S. had held the top spot, which is now firmly held by China. Globally, 2010 clean energy finance and investments grew by 30 percent to a record $243 billion. The United States received $34 billion in equity last year, a 51 percent increase from 2009.

Hey, a 51% increase isn’t shabby.

A new SEIA and GTM Research report shows that this country is central to the global solar supply chain. In 2010, U.S. solar firms achieved a positive trade flow of $1.9 billion (USD) globally, according to The U.S. Solar Energy Trade Assessment 2011. The press release says that photovoltaic (PV) components accounted for more than 99% of the year's exports, with solar heating and cooling (SHC) claiming the remainder of the positive balance. What’s more, 2010 was a record year. Exports totaled more than $5.6 billion, with PV polysilicon feedstock and capital equipment leading all components at $2.5 billion and $1.4 billion, respectively. The leading destinations for U.S.-sourced PV components were China and Germany. Meanwhile, U.S. imports of PV products totaled $3.7 billion, the majority of which ($2.4 billion) came from procurement of modules assembled overseas. China and Mexico were the top two sources of PV goods headed to the U.S. in 2010, the report said.

 A new U.S. solar employment report about to be released by The Solar Foundation shows real net growth in U.S.  jobs in the solar industry. The Bureau of Labor Statistics is also developing a green jobs statistical database to track industry sector growth. 

The solar industry is booming. Stion just ribbon cut its new CIGs photovoltaics manufacturing plant in Hattiesburg, Mississippi. Suniva (Norcross, Georgia), a U.S.-based solar photovoltaics (PV) manufacturer, in January 2010 announced that the company had received 5.7 million U.S.-dollars in Advanced Manufacturing Tax Credits (AMTC) to expand its solar cell manufacturing facility in Norcross. Suniva started producing mono-crystalline solar photovoltaic (PV) cells at this facility in October 2008, and now operates two solar cell production lines with an annual capacity of 100 megawatts (MW). Currently, the company is preparing to construct a third manufacturing line, which could increase the total production capacity by 75 % with half its output headed for export.

MXSolar in Somerset NJ, a subsidiary of an Italian manufacturer that invested $145 million in the facility, opened its plant in December 2010 producing 65 MW and plans to expand to 100 MW in 2011.

 The bad press on Evergreen Solar and Solyndra is distorting the status of the U.S solar industry and by default, all the green industries. Evergreen’s demise was no surprise. Bloomberg News reported, “Since 2010, Evergreen has been the worst-performing company on the Bloomberg Global Leaders Solar Index. Solar-energy equipment makers are being hurt by excess capacity, the cutback of subsidies in Europe and increased competition from manufacturers in China.”

Moody’s Investors Service said in a June 1 report that the global production capacity of photovoltaic plants jumped 139 percent to 18.2 gigawatts in 2010.  Evergreen announced publicly its intent to close its Devens, MA manufacturing plant in late 2010 and stated, “Evergreen Solar will continue to operate its high temperature filament plant in Midland, Michigan and its wafer facility in Wuhan, China. With approximately 75 megawatts of installed wafer capacity in Wuhan, the Company will continue to supply its outsourcing partner with wafers for conversion into Evergreen Solar branded solar panels.”

 Solyndra’s failure also was not a surprise to many of us: the company’s costs for production exceeded $3/watt and the product was brittle and had larger-than_industry-standard breakage.  

Solyndra’s failure has nothing to do with solar or green industries. Many of us pleaded during passage of the Stimulus Bill not to have U.S. DOE issue loan guarantees, but rather provide technology due-diligence “only” to federal agencies such as Ex-Im Bank and the USDA, which have issued loan guarantees successfully for decades. Our pleas fell on deaf ears at The White House, with Nobel Prize winner Chu strongly claiming DOE could scale-up and handle this new task. Obviously they couldn’t, and can’t. 

While House Republicans are using this incident to throw barbs at the Obama Administration, even though they are also the ones that have consistently pushed through $65 billion+ of loan guarantee authority for the U.S. nuclear energy industry. Hmmmmm.

While China has become the bogeyman for all things manufacturing, China has given land, tax forgiveness, and provides huge domestic markets for solar, wind, and virtually every other renewable technology. Domestic markets help countries drive global markets. And that sentiment was echoed by the Department of Commerce’s Renewable Energy and Energy Efficiency Advisory Committee (of which I am a member) when we addressed the Acting DOC Secretary this week in Washington, DC.  

With politicians throwing brick bats at each other, the green industries are right in the middle dodging these projectiles. Both political parties have embraced our growth, yet the Solyndra demise is being held up as some symbol. The national media now has picked up this story and the reporting has fallen short on the facts.

The solar and renewable industries' sales went up during the economic meltdown. Sales and manufacturing capacity are increasing, not as fast as China, but steadily increasing. Component manufacturing, installation and service jobs have also increased dramatically in the United States. 

It’s hard to watch, but I have been following these political and media follies for many decades. Clean energy CEO’s and analysts need to speak up so as not to leave an information vacuum. Time is on our side. The American public wants us and our costs are going down and performance quality going up in all the clean energy technology sectors.  

Be bullish and unapologetic, go forth and set the record straight.

For the last eleven years, Scott Sklar has run The Stella Group, Ltd. is a strategic technology optimization and policy firm for clean distributed energy users and companies. Scott Sklar is Chair of the Steering Committee of the Sustainable Energy Coalition and serves on the (non-profit) Boards of Directors of, the Business Council for Sustainable Energy, and the Renewable Energy Policy Project, and The Solar Foundation. Sklar is an Adjunct Professor at the George Washington University teaching a unique multi-disciplinary sustainable energy course. On November 4, 2010 Secretary Locke approved Sklar’s appointment to the Department of Commerce Renewable Energy and Energy Efficiency Advisory Committee (RE&EEAC). He can be reached at solarsklar@aol.com.

 

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