Give Me Solar Now Tomorrow and Forever

A few points about political witch hunts, the push for solar energy, government subsidies and the benefits of competition:

This is apropos to the Solyndra issue that’s been over-discussed in the media: “In the past 18 months, according to SolarWorld, cheap Chinese imports have pushed at least seven U.S. solar-panel makers into bankruptcy. And that’s not counting cutbacks or downsizing.”

Solyndra’s problem was caused by the very same issue I’ll be talking and quoting about below. If it wasn’t for bullish Chinese subsidization of the solar industry driving prices down (that is why Solyndra couldn’t hack it – both raw materials and prices dropped significantly due to the Chinese government meddling, leading to impossible to compete price manipulation), Solyndra would still be in business today and it wouldn’t have been a blip in anyone’s radar.

Every time I hear “Solyndra” breathed out by a Republican, I know the discussion isn’t about a practical matter and it’s NOTHING BUT politics and tribal warfare. I immediately know that it’s not going to be a reflective discussion in an attempt to get to the bottom of things. People like Robert are self-inflicted VICTIMS of partisan politics.

After an ENTIRE YEAR long investigation into the Solyndra matter, there is no smoking gun and has long become nothing more than a show trial in an attempt to hurt Obama’s election chances and discredit clean energy. Thousands of pages of documents, dozens upon dozens of testimonies. Tax money wasted on a witch hunt against Chu and Obama. Let’s talk about wasting tax dollars, eh? It is nothing more than a political disagreement masquerading as if there’s any actual value to it and as if there is actually anything to prove other than that Republican politicians are a bunch of whiney little bitches with too little care to do anything of value in their lives. Not only are Republicans acting like douchebags but they’re wasting tax dollars running election-year campaign games within the chamber of congress.
It’s a god damn shame that otherwise intelligent Republicans fall for this tripe.

Back to the matter of the solar market:

I actually love the fact that China is subsidizing the solar industry heavily. It is a net plus for the environment, a net plus for American consumers and a net plus for technological advancement and energy efficiency (including energy independence). The problem is that it’s not all cakes and roses.

Another question is whether cheaper solar panels are really such a terrible thing from an energy perspective. The U.S. retail price of solar power is now about half of what it was five years ago. Solar installations doubled in 2011, and we’re fast reaching the point where solar can compete with traditional fossil fuel sources. If China wants to spend extra money providing us with cheaper electricity sources, why should we complain?

On the other hand, there’s no guarantee that Chinese solar panels will always be cheap if China corners the world market. The country spent years flooding the world with cheap rare earth metals, and now that it has a monopoly, China is hiking prices.

So, yes, the US also needs a solar manufacturing industry, both for the sake of innovation and for the sake of protecting our energy resources. So far, the US doesn’t even consider solar a source of energy which must be protected like we do the world’s oil supply. We should definitely be concerned – and not simply because China could very well corner the market and hike up prices.

This is the argument that, sure, it’s nice that China’s flooding the United States with cheap panels, but they’re also putting more innovative U.S. companies out of business — and we need that innovation for solar to truly catch on in the long run.

It’s hard to predict how tariffs might affect innovation. At the moment, low Chinese prices are spurring some U.S. manufacturers to experiment with new technologies, like thin film, that helps drive down prices even further. Would that innovation continue with less competition from China? Or do U.S. companies that are breaking in with innovative new ideas need higher prices, driven by tariffs, to gain a foothold in the market?

The thing is, this calls for more government subsidies in the US, not less. Tariffs would do little for energy independence and the solar industry; all it would do is raise prices for American consumers and lead to job losses among solar panel retailers and installers. It might boost American solar companies who would have a leg-up in competing with Chinese solar manufacturers, but that would only be true within the United States. China still holds the reins of cheap raw materials (switching to sources from the US would be more expensive, defeating the purpose), so they would be in a very big position of power to manipulate our solar industry, tariff or no tariff. What we need is a solar energy funding guarantee – the same kind we give to oil companies.

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