Ben Santarris, U.S. Head of Corporate Communications and Sustainability, SolarWorld
The most difficult issue facing the solar industry today is China’s drive to seize global solar-industry dominance, using illegally dumped and subsidized products without regard for other nations’ interests, international trade laws or WTO obligations.
China’s recent ascent, predicated on unfair trade, has injured not only the U.S. industry but also the global industry, leading to dozens of shutdowns and bankruptcies in what should be growing, thriving industries.
For all to see, this technocratic tyranny details what amounts to economic aggression in annual iterations of its Five-Year Plan for solar and six other world industries. The Chinese government terms them “strategic” industries, meaning those that it is resolved to gut and own at virtually any cost.
The list of solar corporate road kill around the world has mounted to the dozens and dozens — producers of finished products, factory equipment, raw materials and factory services.
As China’s across-the-board subsidization has enabled its export-intensive industry to seize world market share at dumped prices, China has systematically decoupled supply and demand to a degree of distortion that no factor of production — neither debt nor pricing nor cost — is rationally or efficiently valued to the benefit of the industry’s long-term development.
Much of the U.S. industry grasps the harms of such anticompetitive tactics in support of an export drive that is careening off its rails and short-changing future years of industry progress in exchange for the possibility of one more week’s unsustainable results.
To address this issue and ensure solar’s long-term growth, countries need to start by enforcing their trade laws. The best way to ensure a strong solar industry is to maintain a strong solar manufacturing industry, where goods are priced appropriately based on cost, not government export goals.
Until then, organic industry and market challenges — and solutions — will remain hard to discern.
Ben Santarris is U.S. head of corporate communications and sustainability for SolarWorld, where he has worked since 2008. He worked the previous eight years as a business journalist at The Oregonian, the last several years as business editor. He previously worked in various editing and reporting roles in Washington state, Pennsylvania, Connecticut and Boston.