Photo: Lance Cheung, Flickr, CC BY
Who says the US doesn't make anything anymore? We make solar panels! Or, at least, we make the stuff that makes solar panels. And then we export it, raking in $1.9 billion annually. We export $5.6 billion worth of goods, and import $3.7 billion. Exporting solar power is actually a booming business in the US, a new report from the Solar Energy Trade Association reveals -- it's one of the few sectors where we actually have a trade surplus with China, despite the omnipresent reportage insisting that nation is already eating our lunch when it comes to renewables. In other words, solar exports are already a major boon to our economy.
However, the policies that have enabled this boom are set to expire soon, and that could lead to a major slowdown in this important, fast-growing industry.
Image courtesy of GTM Research
Stephen Lacey at Renewable Energy World points out that the new figures represent a "$1 billion increase over net exports documented in the solar sector last year. In fact, a report released this morning from GTM Research and the Solar Energy Industries Association found that the U.S. has a $247 million trade surplus with China."
It turns out that while we import the modules -- that's where all those stories about solar PV manufacturing moving to China come in -- we're exporting polysilicon (an $873 million industry) and a bunch of solar equipment. As Lacey notes, "Solar isn't just about the module. When looking at polysilicon production, equipment for manufacturing lines, power electronics, solar hot water tanks, and any number of other domestically-produced products, the U.S. actually offers a good-sized contribution to the global market."
So the point I'd take away from this is that even though solar manufacturing has moved overseas due to the super cheap labor and powerful government assistance, it's still having a majorly positive impact on American businesses. But it might not for long. The policies that enabled such growth are set to expire: Lacey sites the Treasury Grant Program and Loan Guarantee Program as the key programs that made it easier to finance projects. And with a divided Congress and noisy right wing that's, ahem, "unsympathetic", to such projects -- and drastic budget cuts imminent -- we're set to pull the rug out from under our burgeoning clean tech sector just as it's taking off.