China's Suntech Will Build Solar Panels in U.S.
Biggest Solar Manufacturer Could Provide 1,000 US Jobs
Suntech, China's solar leader and the world's largest producer of photovoltaics by volume, will build a factory in the United States.
"We believe in the outstanding long-term prospects of the solar energy market in the United States," said Shi Zhengrong, Suntech's CEO (and erstwhile richest man in China). "A number of favorable developments have led us to this decision, including the dramatic growth in utility demand for large-scale wholesale solar projects, the increasing number of states with incentive programs for customer-owned systems and the federal government's recent stimulus package."
This is more proof that promoting clean energy in the US is going to generate green jobs at home.The location of the new facility will be chosen within the next six months, based on a variety of factors, including local manufacturing incentives and long-term policy commitments that incentivize solar ownership. Those two factors seem to be driving the company's decision to start manufacturing in the US. Suntech, which is listed on the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE: STP), was the first Chinese solar company to enter the US market, and has a branch office in California, where it expects to do 70 percent of its business.
"Suntech has invested significant resources in establishing a world-class solar team in the U.S. to service a national dealer network, provide system design and installation advice and support, and develop 10MW+ solar projects," said Dr. Shi, in a statement. "Initiating manufacturing in the U.S. will drive further growth of green jobs and support the ongoing transition to renewable energy sources."
If the U.S. market grows as quickly as Suntech expects, Roger Efird, president of Suntech America, the company's U.S. subsidiary, said the company could provide "1,000 or so" manufacturing jobs in the next few years.
Rhone Resch, president of the Solar Energy Industries Association, said the prospect of a Chinese solar company opening up a manufacturing facility in the US was "quite a reversal from what we have seen in the last couple of years."
Moving its manufacturing closer to its intended market isn't just a shrewd economic move for Suntech. It's a wise political play for the company as critics of clean energy legislation sound protectionist alarms over China's potential upper hand in the global cleantech industry.
Suntech's move may have also been spurred by the Chinese government, as Elizabeth Balkan at NEEDigest notes. Officials have recently encouraged more overseas cooperation and investment in manufacturing ventures. This could be a way to continue transitioning the country from simply energy resource exploitation and manufacturing and toward research and innovation, areas in which China still lags behind the US and Europe.
China Cleans Up Nicely
Still, China is the world's second largest investor in cleantech after Germany, according to a 2008 report by the Climate Group.
Lately China has slashed some of its funding for green projects under its own economic stimulus package. But as Green Leap Forward notes, it's been making inroads on the environmental policy front for years, using energy and water intensity targets, promoting electric cars, and providing subsidies for solar installations. More subsidies are expected this month under the stimulus plan, which up until now features no earmarks for renewables.
But America's Got Renewable Incentives
The US is catching up fast. California and Colorado have already committed to subsidies that encourage PV manufacturers to set up shop in their states. In California, solar roofs are becoming standard.
And after the government's stimulus package provided funding and loan guarantees for renewables, various states have jumped on the bandwagon: Kansas, New Mexico, Utah, Arizona and Texas (the US's wind cheerleader) have recently passed new incentives to encourage residents to get paid for home installations and encourage businesses and utilities to catch the wind and the sun.
The latest product of the renewable frenzy: Arizona, as we just reported, could soon be the home of the world's largest solar project.
The new incentives and policies proliferating across the US are on top of preexisting renewable portfolio standards in place in 28 states, requiring utilities to pull a certain percentage of their electricity from renewable sources.
No doubt, as the U.S. pushes renewables like never before, the incentives for Suntech and other foreign PV manufactures to manufacture in the U.S. are increasingly obvious.
And the benefits -- more green jobs for the US, more incentives for American and Chinese solar companies to innovate and build more efficiently, cleaner life cycles for solar panels, less shipping, and more improved and economical solar energy for American homes -- are clear as daylight.