Since our last post covering the Solar World anti-trade case against Chinese solar panel manufacturers, the Coalition for Affordable Solar Energy (CASE) has grown three-fold. CASE now representsover 130 companies totaling 13,000 employees across the US solar industry (Solar World employs just under 3,000 worldwide, many of whom are not in the US). The rapid growth in CASE’s membership in such a short time frame comes just ahead of the scheduled vote at the International Trade Commission, one of the government entities charged with investigating the claims of illegal dumping.
Our last post on the matter overviewed how panel prices are a crucial consideration for companies helping homeowners put solar on their rooftops. There are several solutions to provide homeowners affordable solar that range from solar leases- where the homeowner puts little or no money down and pays for the system costs through electricity savings over several years- to community bulk purchasing programs that leverage neighborhood support and power in numbers. Most of these solutions either falter or fail without affordable panel pricing from global markets, hurting residential solar providers and customers. But the dramatic increase in CASE members over the last 3 weeks points to a broader concern beyond just the cost of a residential system. CEO Joe Bono of Solar Universe said it best.
“The rapid price reduction of solar panels in the last year has opened up new markets in the U.S. where solar was not previously cost competitive with grid power,” concluding, “This is an opportunity for more jobs and lower utility bills, a trend America needs.”
Though without significant advancements in solar storage capacity solar will never achieve true grid parity (i.e., it won’t provide 100% of our energy needs day and night), Bono puts this trade dispute in the right context. The cost-effectiveness of solar has never made such significant strides to compete with fossil fuel and nuclear power generation as it has in the last two years. The lower utility bills that solar can achieve stretches beyond the contractual confines of a leasing agreement and beyond the geographical limitations of places where the sun shines 350 days a year. The demand for solar that has been met by global supply has generated more momentum in the US solar industry than at any other point in its history. What a shame it would be to come so close to achieving cost-competitiveness in energy technology only to dismantle the network of manufacturers, designers, installers, and financiers that got us to this point.
By Chip Gaul