Solar Industry in U.S. Clouded by New Uncertainty
By Kieran Cooke
The U.S. solar industry is losing its shine. Although solar power is seen as a key way to avoid the use of climate-changing fossil fuels, U.S. solar companies are cutting investments and laying off workers. An industry employing more than 230,000 people and with an estimated worth of $28 billion is now warning of trouble ahead.
The clouds spreading across the U.S. solar sector are in part due to a slowdown in sales in so-called mature markets in California and the Northeast, both areas of double digit solar growth in recent years.
However, industry analysts say the main reason for the present travails in the solar sector is the announcement earlier this year by President Donald Trump of a 30 percent tariff on imported solar panels.
Help at Home
The aim, said Trump, is to support domestic manufacturers and stop the mass import of solar panels, mainly made in southeast Asia, South Korea and China. At present about 90 percent of solar panels installed in the U.S. are imported.
"We'll be making solar products now much more so in the U.S.," said Trump, announcing the imposition of tariffs in January.
"Our companies have been decimated and those companies are going to come back strong … a lot of workers, a lot of jobs."
The overwhelming majority of people involved in the U.S. solar sector are involved with installation and maintenance; a large number of firms also manufacture subsidiary products, such as racks for mounting the panels.
While some U.S.-based manufacturers of solar panels—there are now very few of them—have welcomed news of the tariffs, most in the industry say the move is likely to drive up costs in what is a highly competitive energy sector.
China now dominates the global solar power market; it's the source of two thirds of the world's total solar panel capacity and it also buys up half of the world's production.
Chinese manufacturers have invested heavily in research and development and their solar products have become increasingly sophisticated.
U.S. industry analysts say the products of domestic companies will be too expensive and will not be able to compete with other energies such as wind power or gas. Demand will fall, and jobs will be lost rather than gained.
From 2010 to 2016, solar power installations in the U.S. went into overdrive, driven by falling costs and a range of government incentives. The industry says nearly 50GW of capacity is now installed—enough to power 10 million homes.
Some in the solar industry say that with or without the tariffs—which have been imposed on a sliding scale for a four-year period, with a 15 percent charge in the final year—solar power is very much here to stay. Demand might slow, but it will not stop.
In anticipation of the tariff hike, solar companies stockpiled a vast amount of imported solar panels last year; in the last three months of 2017, U.S. imports of solar panels from China increased by more than 1,000 percent—enough to supply the industry for several months.
It seems that Trump's efforts to discourage the use of renewable energy are not working in the way he might wish.
Recently, growth in solar power installations has been particularly strong in the Midwest and South—in pro-Trump states that have traditionally turned their backs on renewable energy and supported the president's fossil fuel policies.
Trump’s Destructive Solar Tariffs: Why Smarter Ways Exist to Foster Innovation and Save Jobs… https://t.co/fQgFJgStig— EcoWatch (@EcoWatch)1516717200.0
Reposted with permission from our media associate Climate News Network.
Yet another former Trump administration staffer has come out with an endorsement for former Vice President Joe Biden, this time in response to President Donald Trump's handling of the coronavirus pandemic.
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By D. André Green II
One of nature's epic events is underway: Monarch butterflies' fall migration. Departing from all across the United States and Canada, the butterflies travel up to 2,500 miles to cluster at the same locations in Mexico or along the Pacific Coast where their great-grandparents spent the previous winter.
Millions of People Care About Monarchs<p>I will never forget the sights and sounds the first time I visited monarchs' overwintering sites in Mexico. Our guide pointed in the distance to what looked like hanging branches covered with dead leaves. But then I saw the leaves flash orange every so often, revealing what were actually thousands of tightly packed butterflies. The monarchs made their most striking sounds in the Sun, when they burst from the trees in massive fluttering plumes or landed on the ground in the tussle of mating.</p><p>Decades of educational outreach by teachers, researchers and hobbyists has cultivated a generation of monarch admirers who want to help preserve this phenomenon. This global network has helped restore not only monarchs' summer breeding habitat by planting milkweed, but also general pollinator habitat by planting nectaring flowers across North America.</p><p>Scientists have calculated that restoring the monarch population to a stable level of about 120 million butterflies will require <a href="https://doi.org/10.1111/icad.12198" target="_blank">planting 1.6 billion new milkweed stems</a>. And they need them fast. This is too large a target to achieve through grassroots efforts alone. A <a href="https://www.fws.gov/savethemonarch/CCAA.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">new plan</a>, announced in the spring of 2020, is designed to help fill the gap.</p>
Pros and Cons of Regulation<p>The top-down strategy for saving monarchs gained energy in 2014, when the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service <a href="https://www.fws.gov/southeast/pdf/petition/monarch.pdf" target="_blank">proposed</a> listing them as threatened under the Endangered Species Act. A decision is expected in December 2020.</p><p>Listing a species as endangered or threatened <a href="https://www.fws.gov/endangered/esa-library/pdf/listing.pdf" target="_blank">triggers restrictions</a> on "taking" (hunting, collecting or killing), transporting or selling it, and on activities that negatively affect its habitat. Listing monarchs would impose restrictions on landowners in areas where monarchs are found, over vast swaths of land in the U.S.</p><p>In my opinion, this is not a reason to avoid a listing. However, a "threatened" listing might inadvertently threaten one of the best conservation tools that we have: public education.</p><p>It would severely restrict common practices, such as rearing monarchs in classrooms and back yards, as well as scientific research. Anyone who wants to take monarchs and milkweed for these purposes would have to apply for special permits. But these efforts have had a multigenerational educational impact, and they should be protected. Few public campaigns have been more successful at raising awareness of conservation issues.</p>
<span style="display:block;position:relative;padding-top:56.25%;" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="91165203d4ec0efc30e4632a00fdf57d"><iframe lazy-loadable="true" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/KilPRvjbMrA?rel=0" width="100%" height="auto" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" style="position:absolute;top:0;left:0;width:100%;height:100%;"></iframe></span>
The Rescue Attempt<p>To preempt the need for this kind of regulation, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service approved a <a href="https://www.fws.gov/savethemonarch/pdfs/Monarch%20CCAA-CCA%20Public%20Comment%20Documents/Monarch-Nationwide_CCAA-CCA_Draft.pdf" target="_blank">Nationwide Candidate Conservation Agreement for Monarch Butterflies</a>. Under this plan, "rights-of-way" landowners – energy and transportation companies and private owners – commit to restoring and creating millions of acres of pollinator habitat that have been decimated by land development and herbicide use in the past half-century.</p><p>The agreement was spearheaded by the <a href="http://rightofway.erc.uic.edu/" target="_blank">Rights-of-Way Habitat Working Group</a>, a collaboration between the University of Illinois Chicago's <a href="https://erc.uic.edu/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Energy Resources Center</a>, the Fish and Wildlife Service and over 40 organizations from the energy and transportation sectors. These sectors control "rights-of-way" corridors such as lands near power lines, oil pipelines, railroad tracks and interstates, all valuable to monarch habitat restoration.</p><p>Under the plan, partners voluntarily agree to commit a percentage of their land to host protected monarch habitat. In exchange, general operations on their land that might directly harm monarchs or destroy milkweed will not be subject to the enhanced regulation of the Endangered Species Act – protection that would last for 25 years if monarchs are listed as threatened. The agreement is expected to create up to 2.3 million acres of new protected habitat, which ideally would avoid the need for a "threatened" listing.</p>
A Model for Collaboration<p>This agreement could be one of the few specific interventions that is big enough to allow researchers to quantify its impact on the size of the monarch population. Even if the agreement produces only 20% of its 2.3 million acre goal, this would still yield nearly half a million acres of new protected habitat. This would provide a powerful test of the role of declining breeding and nectaring habitat compared to other challenges to monarchs, such as climate change or pollution.</p><p>Scientists hope that data from this agreement will be made publicly available, like projects in the <a href="https://www.fws.gov/savethemonarch/MCD.html" target="_blank">Monarch Conservation Database</a>, which has tracked smaller on-the-ground conservation efforts since 2014. With this information we can continue to develop powerful new models with better accuracy for determining how different habitat factors, such as the number of milkweed stems or nectaring flowers on a landscape scale, affect the monarch population.</p><p>North America's monarch butterfly migration is one of the most awe-inspiring feats in the natural world. If this rescue plan succeeds, it could become a model for bridging different interests to achieve a common conservation goal.</p>
The annual Ig Nobel prizes were awarded Thursday by the science humor magazine Annals of Improbable Research for scientific experiments that seem somewhat absurd, but are also thought-provoking. This was the 30th year the awards have been presented, but the first time they were not presented at Harvard University. Instead, they were delivered in a 75-minute pre-recorded ceremony.