Are Biden’s Solar Goals Achievable?
The Biden administration’s commitment to increasing solar energy output is commendable.
They recently announced that the U.S. will strive to combat climate change by having solar produce 45% of U.S. energy needs by 2050.
But let’s not forget that “actions speak louder than words.”
Recently Customs and Border Protection began blocking the import of solar panels coming from Chinese solar companies using polysilicon produced by forced labor practices.
Keep in mind that the Chinese are notorious for forced labor practices and produce almost half the world's polysilicon, which is a major component in solar panels.
Much of this polysilicon is produced in Xinjiang Province by the Uyghurs, a Muslim ethnic group working under slave labor conditions, according to many human rights organizations.
Go Here for an earlier article on the Uyghurs.
Can the U.S. substantially reduce its carbon footprint AND limit its reliance on solar materials from China at the same time?
Gonna be tough...
Import restrictions on solar panels using polysilicon from Xinjiang Province will make reaching our solar goals difficult.
These measures, although many would argue are necessary, are ultimately going to adversely affect the solar supply chain and the cost of solar, which will inevitably affect solar panel production.
Where are the panels, necessary for the U.S. to reach it’s solar goals, going to come from if solar panel manufacturers around the world use polysilicon produced in Xinjiang Province?
The few solar panel manufacturers operating in the U.S., don’t produce nearly enough solar panels to even make a dent in our ambitious goals.
And you can’t just build solar factories overnight.
Now, thankfully, First Solar, one of the biggest solar manufacturers in the U.S. doesn't use Chinese polysilicon, since their panels are made from cadmium and telluride.
But unfortunately, First Solar only produces solar panels for utility scale industrial applications, not residential and commercial rooftop solar.
We will need lots of residential and commercial rooftop solar arrays to reach our solar objectives.
And there simply aren’t going to be enough solar panels produced under the new restrictions to make that happen.
Moreover, much of the polysilicon wafers and cell production that goes into U.S. made solar panels is done by workers overseas. These materials are then shipped to U.S. factories where the solar modules are assembled.
Don't want to cast aspersions on developing world manufacturing practices and worker treatment, but historically, according to many humanitarian organizations, 3rd world factory workers have been exploited mercilessly in lots of different industries.
Not sure the treatment of solar factory workers in Malaysia and Vietnam meets American standards.
But it’s pretty clear that if Biden's solar energy targets are going to be met, much of the solar manufacturing is going to be done overseas where labor standards and worker treatment is often suspect.
Striving for ambitious solar deployment is a worthy undertaking, but decisions on how, and from whom, we procure solar materials and finished goods will have to be considered.
Joe Collins is a solar consultant and the owner of CIE Solar Energy, LLC.