US – China Trade War Over Solar Panels

Trade wars initiated by trade sanctions are nothing new. In fact they happen in many industries, especially those that are highly competitive. But it may be a surprise to learn that a trade war over solar panels may be about to begin, over potential sanctions put on China imports. What is already happening in many other industries may bleed over into the renewable energy business, and this could have severe consequences on US customers who want to adopt a green energy system and install solar panels, and may affect a lot of jobs.

It all started when SolarWorld, a German based company operating in the US, filed a complaint with the trade commission on behalf of all the US based solar panel manufacturers. The complaint said that China manufacturers were getting major subsidies from their government and dumping these panels in the US at a much lower price, so that US companies couldn’t compete.

This isn’t a new story, and it’s something that happens all the time in all sorts of industries. Trade is governed by a series of treaties, and one stipulation says that while a manufacturer in one country can sell its goods in another country, if that company gets an unfair advantage, such as having large government grants, then it’s unfair to the companies in the second country who do not have that advantage. That’s when a complaint is made, and when trade tariffs are added. Any time an imported product, such as lumber wood, food, etc, has a special tax added onto it when it comes into the country, it’s usually because of these trade sanctions.

Here, solar panels have so far been clear of sanctions, until now. The government will need to review the complaint and make a decision. Either it’s not true, and everything will stay as it is, or Chinese companies are getting an unfair advantage, in which case the rules of the game may change. But what does it mean for US customers? Well, it means China based solar panels will suddenly raise in price, for a start. So higher prices are clearly on the horizon, which is obviously bad news. However, the reason for these trade sanctions is that without them, US companies couldn’t compete, which means they might go out of business, and a lot of people may lose their jobs. So with these higher prices, you may see companies stay in business. In fact, what often happens is that they now get room to grow, and local employment goes up. So it’s a double edged sword.

As you can imagine, the possibility of trade sanctions is a very hot topic, and a lot of people are upset with what SolarWorld did. There’s people and companies arguing on both sides of the fence, and ultimately it’s the government that will need to make a decision in this case. It could take a while however, a few years in fact, but there’s little doubt that this situation will not go away until a final decision is made.

The Jobs Project

A group devoted to creating alternative energy jobs in Central Appalachia, The Jobs Project is building a set of rooftop solar panels, assembled by unemployed coal miners and contractors. The 40- by 15-foot solar array is to be set on top of a doctor’s office.

Nick Getzen, spokesman for The Jobs Project said:

“This is the first sign for a lot of folks that this is real, and that it’s real technology, and they can have it in their communities…In no way are we against coal or trying to replace coal. There’s still going to be coal mining here. This is just something else to help the economy.”

The Jobs Project merged last year with Mountain View Solar & Wind of Berkeley Springs, a solar energy company from the Eastern Panhandle, with the objective to develop a privately bankrolled job-training program. The 12 employed trainees are earning $45 per hour for three days of work, and some local laborers are earning $10 an hour for helping out.

Mountain View owner Mike McKechnie said:

“We are not funded by any state organization. We’re doing this as a business because we want to grow the solar infrastructure and industry…We’re West Virginians, and we think it’s important. There’s a need here that’s not being met…This training model we’re unleashing in Williamson is something we’ve proven…It’s not a pilot project. It’s something we’ve shown works…What we’re doing is giving them a crash course. They get an introduction, and if they want to continue, then that’s who we’ll call in the future…”

If they enjoy the work, they are to follow up with additional training in the Eastern Panhandle “to get them to a certain caliber, and then they’ll continue their training as we start to do work down there…We’re hoping they will go out on their own and find some sales leads and close those sales. We want to develop the entrepreneurial spirit so eventually they can go out on their own…The public wants it and they can’t find it…”

He continued:

“We’re impressed with the focused enthusiasm and boldness of Mountain View Solar and Wind, and its partnership with The Jobs Project to spread the economic activity and financial savings of solar, and we want to do whatever we can to support and enhance the effort…”

Just Another Solar Powered President

Last month, the White House snubbed a proposal by activists to reinstall one of former President Carter’s solar panels atop the executive mansion.

This was not, however, a snub of solar energy, altogether.

Chairman of the White House Council on Environmental Quality, Nancy Sutley, and energy secretary, Steven Chu will unveil plans to put photovoltaic solar collectors and a solar hot water heater atop 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.

Secretary Chu said in a statement:

Solar Whitehouse

“This project reflects President Obama’s strong commitment to U.S. leadership in solar energy and the jobs it will create here at home…Deploying solar energy technologies across the country will help America lead the global economy for years to come.”

President Carter’s solar array was dismantled in 1986 by President Ronald Reagan; but the first President Bush installed a modest solar-charged system to power a maintenance building and heat the White House swimming pool.

The solar power industry applauded the White House action as a sign of its commitment to renewable energy.

“As we enter the second decade of the 21st century experiencing a horrific oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, a devastating natural gas explosion in California, death of 25 West Virginia coal miners, kidnapped uranium miners in Niger — it’s about time for the United States to reposition itself as a global leader in solar and the entire portfolio renewable energy and energy efficiency technologies critical to our economic and national security.”

Explained Scott Sklar, president of the Stella Group, which promotes renewable power generation.

He continued:

“This project reflects President Obama’s strong commitment to U.S. leadership in solar energy and the jobs it will create here at home…Deploying solar energy technologies across the country will help America lead the global economy for years to come.”

The President’s move, indeed, is a step in the right direction; but he has not by any means one-upped his predecessors. He is no more innovative than Carter or Bush, and therefore he is not actually doing anything for the green revolution. Cap and Trade is an unfulfilled dream – an idea in vain, perhaps. And oil and coal prices have not been raised in order to make room for the alternative energy industry, like electric cars, for example. Coal power still accounts for about half of the country’s electricity; and we continue to increase our fossil fuel supply by engaging in offshore drilling.

Jeans and Solar Cells

Brilliant Cornell University Researchers say that they have found a solution to creating yet more proficient solar cells. Well, as it turns out, particular molecules found in blue jeans and some other ink dyes may be used in a process for assembling a structure called “covalent organic framework” or COF, which help to make cheaper, flexible solar cells.

While organic materials have failed to prove ease of use in the creation of solar cells, the researchers are finding that these molecules found in every-day materials might be just what we needed.

The process makes use of phthalocyanines – common industrial dyes similar in structure to chlorophyll. It can absorb the entire solar spectrum, and is therefore ideal for maxium solar cell efficiency.
By using this molecule and a new process, the researchers have come up with something special.

According to Life Sciences:

“The strategy uses a simple acid catalyst and relatively stable molecules called protected catechols to assemble key organic molecules into a neatly ordered two-dimensional sheet. These sheets stack on top of one another to form a lattice that provides pathways for charge to move through the material.”

So, not only is it easy to build, but the structures may be taken apart and re-made to correct any errors. Thus far, the research has yielded but a structure for a solar cell, that is, not an actual solar cell. But the researchers hope that it is a model which can be used in manufacturing more effecual solar cells in the near future.

Riches Of The Sun

Solar powered manufacturing will, without a doubt, be a hot topic in the near future. Generating solar power to run modules, which provide cleaner electricity and cut electricity costs, is not the only resource that may be provided to us by the sun. Large photovoltaic arrays have been used in large business buildings, warehouses and homes, for a long time now, and they are effective. But it would be foolish to cease looking for more gifts; this is being proven lately by a small Sacramento company called, Plastic Package, INC.

solyndra plastic packagePlastic Package uses solar power for a variety of purposes; perhaps the most innovative of which is forming virgin and plastic products into useable and re-useable products. These products include plastic containers for food, such as chocolate confections, agricultural and baked goods. And they also make products for medical, electronic and retail industries.

Plastic Package has a 208 kilowatt solar system, which generates the energy that it uses for its manufacturing its products, and serves to assist its local power provider, Sacramento Municipal Utility District (SMUD) in reducing its summer peak loads during the sunniest time of the day.

The company uses for its solar system, cylindrical thin film panels from Solyndra. The Solyndra cylinders use something called, CIGS (copper indium gallium selenide). The module captures light from different angles, as the Sun arcs across the sky. The module also collects rays which bounce off the company’s roof, to form a 360 degree “solar collection service.” The system was installed by Premier Power Renewable Energy, and is the biggest cylindrical thin film solar system to the west of the state of New Jersey.