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.
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.
Craft brewers love to sell themselves as environmental activists. How can you tell a sincerely sustainable business from those looking for a selling point? One answer, solar.
The Relationship Between Brewers and Environmentalism
Millennials love craft brewers, and craft brewers are very aware of what the Pew Research Center found in 2014. Millennials look for socially and environmentally responsible businesses and are willing to pay more for sustainable products.
As Millennials are the biggest generation, marketing to them is important. Having a green (or green-washed) business brings in customers excited to support an environmentally-friendly organization.
Craft brewers also must combat the fact that they are a water-intensive industry; a gallon of beer from an average brewery requires seven gallons of water. While most customers would still drink their favorite brew despite the water consumption, water availability and quality are growing environmental concerns directly affecting and affected by breweries. An organization marketing to an environmentally-conscious generation needs to balance environmental cons with environmental pros.
Follow the Money
While craft brewers modify their businesses and processes in a variety of ways to become more sustainable, a customer dedicated to finding the most sustainable beer needs only to follow the money. Businesses who make investments in environmentally-conscious practices are using part of their profits for a greater cause.
A great way to invest in the environment is installing solar arrays. Of the 6,000 American craft breweries, only 100-150 have solar arrays, and ten of those call North Carolina home.
Check out some local breweries going beyond greenwashing
In a competitive market, coal is more expensive than both solar and wind.
In 2001, Texas created a competitive electricity market in that the least expensive resources go on the grid first. At that time, wind supplied less than one percent of Texas’ energy. As of 2018, 20 percent of the market is wind power. With technology and increased production lowering the cost of renewables, there are less arguments, than ever before, for the steady destruction of mountainous landscapes created by America’s need for coal.
Due to the competitive market, Texas has retired coal-fired plants, replacing them with natural gas which is significantly less expensive. By the end of next year, wind is expected to generate more electricity for Texans than coal as more plants are retired. However, these retired plants are largely being replaced by more efficient and less expensive natural gas plants. While natural gas beats coal in an environmentally-friendly competition, it is still a fossil fuel.
Texas’ competitive electricity market creates a fairer fight between renewables and fossil fuels when compared to other state and federal energy policies. Still, fossil fuels have an advantage. The hidden costs related to fossil fuel use like the consequences of climate change, explosions during drilling, transportation, spills and leaks, or burning process, and the pollution of land surrounding gas wells, is not included in the price comparisons of natural gas and renewables.
However, there is still hope. As we continue to burn the finite source of natural gas, it will face the same, inevitable dilemma of oil and coal. The low hanging fruit will be harvested, and the remaining sources will be difficult, dangerous, and expensive to gather while the cost of renewable energy continues to plummet. Someday, the market will favor it.
Will the invisible hand of the free market move soon enough? Don’t wait to see. Ease America’s dependency on fossil fuels by making a personal change in your energy source. Contact SolFarm Solar Co to see what you can do to save the planet.
This week, President Trump created a solar panel tariff. The first year will see a 30% tariff.
In May 2017, American solar panel manufacturer Suniva, later joined by SolarWorld, petitioned the United States International Trade Commission (ITC) to take action restoring the damage done to the American solar panel manufacturers by imported solar panels. The ITC agreed after an investigation, and made suggestions to President Trump who agreed with the suggestions on Jan. 22.
While American solar panel manufacturers benefited, the decision harmed the rest of the solar industry. With higher costs, the number of jobs provided by the growing American solar industry will drop.
However, consequences may not be as bad as they sound. The solar panel tariff will last four years and drop five percent each year. By 2021, the last year of the tariff, it will only be 15 percent. Even with the tariff, solar panel prices will continue to drop as they have for years with each improvement of Chinese and Korean solar panel manufacturing. The tariff may not be noticeable by the time 2021 rolls around.
This is partly due to the percentage-based tariff rather than a fixed amount of money. As foreign solar panel prices drop, so will the tariff. Currently, the tariff adds 10-12 cents per watt in year one, which is a 3-4 percent increase for a resident looking to install an array. By the end of the tariff, it should only be adding 4-5 cents which is less than a 2 percent increase in price.
Though this was not the answer the solar industry hoped for, the impact may not be as bad as was first thought. With a North Carolina rebate program in the works, now could actually be the perfect time to install a solar array.
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More affordable solar arrays will be possible for North Carolinians soon. Duke Energy submitted a solar rebate program proposal to the North Carolina Utilities Commission (NCUC) on Jan. 22.
North Carolina leads the nation in solar, coming second only to California in the amount of solar installed in 2016. In July 2017, North Carolina legislature required Duke to create a rebate program with House Bill 589 or Competitive Energy Solutions Law for North Carolina. Duke responded with a $62 million proposal. When approved, the program will run until 2022 keeping North Carolina in the front of the solar industry. The program comes from two years of collaboration between Duke Energy and N.C. Sustainable Energy Association.
Residents participating in the program receive 60 cents per watt up to 10 kW, meaning residents will be reimbursed for $6,000 of their array. Corporate participants get 50 cents per watt, and non-profits collect 75 cents per watt, both up to 100 kW providing payouts as high as $50,000 for commercial customers and as much as $75,000 for non-profit customers. Those who installed panels after Jan. 1, 2018, are eligible for the program.
The program limits rebates to 20 MW, split evenly between customers of Duke Energy Carolinas and Duke Energy Progress. 5MW for each district are allocated to residents, and 2.5 MW are allocated to non-profits. If NCUC approves the proposal, applications are due to the applicable utility 90 days after installation.
If customers wish to use solar without installing it, there is a leasing option where individuals lease panels from another source. Later in 2018, other programs will be added. Shared Solar enables customers without an array to use energy from a close solar facility. Green Source Advantage expands a Duke Energy Carolina program allowing customers consuming large amounts of energy to offset that with solar.
About SolFarm Solar: Starting in 2012, Mike Diethelm began installing solar PV systems on residential and commercial buildings under the name SolFarm Solar Co. with the intention of doing something great for the earth. His goal is to leave his son with something that was better and cleaner for the environment. Driving a Leaf around town, and a bio-diesel en route to solar jobs, SolFarm has evolved into Asheville’s most trusted and highly recommended solar installation company.