Climate Deal Shines on Bay Area Solar
Repost from SF Gate: http://www.sfgate.com/business/bottomline/article/Climate-deal-shines-sun-on-Bay-Area-solar-5889097.php
Another day, another “historic” agreement reached between the United States and China, this one of considerable interest to the Bay Area’s solar power industry.
Under the agreement reached Wednesday between President Obama and Chinese president Xi Jinping, the United States committed to cut greenhouse gas emissions 26 to 28 percent below 2005 levels by 2025. China says its carbon dioxide emissions will peak around 2030, and that it will increase its non-carbon share of energy use to 20 percent.
In both cases — whether or not the targets will be met — solar will play a major role. China’s chief method of lowering fossil fuel emissions will be by adding solar to the mix, along with wind power. Similarly, according to the White House, various “initiatives and incentives” will be used to push solar and wind power here.
“This of course is all long term, but even if these agreements are weak on the details, they’re incredibly important to industries like solar. They give investors and consumers confidence in the industries’ future,” said Bernadette Del Chiaro, executive director of the California Solar Energy Industries Association in Sacramento.
Confidence in China? Didn’t the nation’s cheap, subsidized solar panels almost wipe out the U.S. solar industry altogether? Case in point: Fremont’s Solyndra. Incoming chairman of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, Sen,James Imhofe, R-Okla., called China’s stated commitment to up its clean energy inventory “hollow and not believable.”
Based on past performance, skeptics have a point. Obama has made promises he couldn’t keep before, and there has traditionally been little love lost between U.S. and China solar interests. Trade complaints in 2011 and 2012 from SolarWorld Americas, an Oregon affiliate of a German solar company, led to the U.S. Commerce Department imposing preliminary antidumping tariffs up to 55 percent on Chinese manufacturers. According to a federal indictment in May, the company’s computers were hacked by elements of the Chinese military and thousands of files stolen around the same time as the Commerce Department ruling. The Chinese government has denied the charge.
Much has changed in the past couple of years, however. U.S. demand for panels, and home and commercial installations, has risen. California’s 1,600 solar companies employ approximately 58,000 people, up 22 percent in 2014, according to the California Solar Energy Industries Association. Menlo Park’s SolarCity announced in September that it will build a $5 billion, 3,000-employee production facility in Buffalo, N.Y. Two weeks ago, SolarWorld announced a $10 million expansion of its plant west of Portland, a production increase of 40 percent and the hiring of 200 more workers.
“It’s the whole gamut — manufacturing, installation, finance — there’s real diversity,” said Del Chiaro.
And more cross-border seeds are being planted. Two weeks ago, San Jose’s SunPower announced a second joint venture with Chinese companies to build solar power plants in Sichuan province. SunPower is also a partner with Chinese companies building solar power facilities in Inner Mongolia.
“There is tremendous opportunity for deployment of economic clean energy in China’s fast-growing economy,” CEO Tom Werner said in an e-mail Wednesday. “With our Chinese joint venture partners, SunPower currently expects to deliver three-gigawatts of solar power to the people of China over the next five to seven years.”
At the same time, China’s solar power presence is growing in the Bay Area. With the help of ChinaSF, the city’s public-private agency, seven Chinese clean-tech companies, mostly solar, have set up offices in San Francisco alone, including major ones like Yingli and Trini Solar (the latter ranked No. 1 for good environmental and social behavior in Silicon Valley Toxics Coalition’s latest survey.)
Last month, Hanergy Thin Film Power, a solar power panel manufacturer in Beijing, announced that it will set up an R&D facility in Silicon Valley The company described Silicon Valley as “an important base for product development … . The base in the United States of America will enable a more extensive access to the global market.”
“Chinese solar and clean energy companies are looking for investments over here, of $100 million and above,” said Darlene Chiu-Bryant. “I think that trend will continue.”
Unless politics in either country manage to find a way to screw it up.