After President Trump approved the solar panel tariff earlier this year, prospects for the American solar industry were not the brightest. However, those predictions may prove to be false.
Having employed more than 250,000 Americans in 2017, the solar industry has seen tremendous growth in the last decade with a small decline in 2017. The solar panel tariff, while attempting to protect American solar panel manufacturers, put the larger part of the solar industry at risk. Manufacturing in Asia is simply cheaper than manufacturing in America, regardless of product or protections. With tariffs raising the price of solar panels imported from China to aid American solar panel manufacturers, solar panels became an option less people could afford. For solar installers, the shrinking pool of potential customers is not ideal. The tariffs created a sizable setback of 2018 solar installation projects.
However, the effect of the solar panel tariff may not be as extreme as some feared. China committed to renewable energy and remain committed; production of Chinese solar and wind energy has only increased. In fact, within the country, they have begun transitioning solar and wind from subsidies to auction, effectively proving that in a country dedicated to lessening its dependence on fossil fuels, renewables can be economically competitive without government interference.
Solidly focused on solar, China has already managed to lower production time and cost between the time the tariffs were put in place and today. The tariffs may be a short-term benefit to American solar panel manufacturers, but even with the tariffs, that benefit will not last. As China pulls subsidies from wind and solar, the Chinese solar panel market will become more competitive than it already is by increasing efficiency and decreasing cost.
The solar panel tariff temporarily wounded the American solar industry, but it was not a fatal blow. Solar energy technologies will consistently decrease is cost as time goes on and the solar industry will thrive because of it.
In late 2017, the Clean Air Task Force and NAACP released results of a study that examined how oil and gas facilities affected air quality in African American predominant communities. There was overwhelming data to support that people in these areas are significantly more affected by airborne pollutants because of their proximity to oil refineries, power plants, hazardous waste facilities, and other major polluters.
Environmental injustices such as this typically do affect other minorities as well, such as women and those living in poverty. In addition, inequalities have a tendency of stacking as pollution can cause health issues that cannot be properly cared for due to lack of finances and healthcare.
In the US, pollution from the natural gas industry causes 750,000 childhood asthma attacks, 500,000 missed school days, 2,000 adult asthma related emergency room visits, and 600 hospital admittance’s. Every year, the oil industry creates over 9 million tons of methane and other chemicals. Minorities do make up the bulk of these numbers as they are typically in most direct contact with the pollutants. These statistics only reflect the harm caused by air pollution, the numbers rise even more when we factor in water and soil contamination.
Major social change is needed to fight these environmental injustices. If these topics are important to you, it is imperative that you take action. Speaking with your government representatives, standing up against new oil and gas facilities, and reducing your own pollution output are all simple steps that can make a big difference.
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As the need to distance ourselves from fossil fuels becomes more urgent due to climate change and pollution in general, solar power is emerging as a leading alternative. It can be scaled to be used by individuals or large utilities; and best of all- it’s renewable. However, large scale solar farms require large tracts of land that have long and regular periods of sunlight. Suitable areas can usually be found in many rural settings and deserts, but transferring that energy over lengthy power lines to more populated areas can be expensive and inefficient.
A new trend is emerging that seems like a promising answer to this inconvenience – building on retired landfills! When a landfill is full it is covered with a polyethylene cap, a thin layer of soil, and finally grass. Despite it’s more pleasing aesthetics, this brownfield ground is still mostly unusable as it is unstable and not suitable for building large structures. Because of the gasses and toxins emitted by the covered landfill the growing of crops is also not a viable option. However, this acreage is perfect for large scale solar farms. Ballasted anchors are used to stabilize the solar array to avoid penetrating the landfill cap. This specialized racking system allows for thousands of solar panels to be installed on this otherwise unusable land; producing a lot of clean, renewable energy.
Landfills are typically built outside of, but close to, city limits and already have access to the power grid. This makes transporting energy for use in more densely populated areas much easier. Right now, there is an estimated 10,000 capped landfills in the US alone, and that number is only growing. The construction of large solar farms would not only positively impact the environment, it would create thousands of well-paying and sustainable jobs on land that is otherwise sitting unused.