Hillary Clinton’s newest campaign promise to install half a billion solar panels across the country has been praised by liberal media outlets and environmentalists, but could this pledge end up benefiting China?
On Sunday, Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton promised to install half a billion solar panels by the end of her first term and get the U.S. to a point where it can generate enough green energy to power every home in the country.
“Through these goals, we will increase the amount of installed solar capacity by 700% by 2020, expand renewable energy to at least a third of all electricity generation, prevent thousands of premature deaths and tens of thousands of asthma attacks each year, and put our country on a path to achieve deep emission reductions by 2050,” Clinton’s website boasts.
While there’s no doubt U.S. companies and green energy interests would benefit from the “competitive grants and other market-based incentives” Hillary promises to implement under her plan, the deal will also be a boost to the oppressive Chinese government.
“Mrs. Clinton’s plan would be a huge boost to China and Taiwan, where over 70 percent of solar photovoltaics are made,” Daniel Kish, senior vice president of policy at the Institute for Energy research, told The Daily Caller News Foundation.
“It’s also a huge boon to Japan and Malaysia, who make the lion’s share of the remaining world production,” Kish said. “I’m not sure Americans are going to be comfortable with Chinese solar panels covering their houses, plugging into their electricity systems and taking their jobs as official government policy.”
Thanks to government subsidies, China is the world’s largest producer of solar panels, and could see huge benefits from increasing solar energy incentives in the U.S. A 2014 report by the European Commission found that “China and Taiwan together now account for more than 70% of worldwide production.”
“The majority of panels [in the U.S.] are manufactured abroad, with the plurality coming from China and many from other Southeast Asian countries and Korea,” a spokesman for the Solar Energy Industries Association told TheDCNF. “The imposition of tariffs on Chinese panels is beginning to have an effect on Chinese imports, however, and we’ve seen domestic production increase over the past six months as Chinese imports decline.”
China’s government heavily backed solar panel companies in the past few years to build solar panels for export to the U.S. and Europe. Chinese solar production boomed in response to increasing attempts by the Obama administration and European countries to increase solar energy use. Now seven in 10 solar panels in the world are made in China.
“U.S.-based module production is currently limited to about 1 GW in practice,” Finlay Colville, vice president at the solar research firm NPD Solarbuzz, told Salon in 2014. “This represented just 2.5 percent of global demand in 2013.”
About “half of the panels used in the U.S. last year came from China,” Salon reported, adding that “U.S. module production fell from 1,200 megawatts in 2011 to 541 megawatts in 2012 and bounced back up to 988 megawatts in 2013.” Chinese imports are projected to continue their decline due to steep tariffs the Obama administration put on Chinese solar panels.
It’s not just Chinese companies that would benefit, as Kish noted: Japanese and Malaysian companies are also manufacturing lots of panels. In fact, the increase in Malaysian solar panel production could largely be from Chinese companies building factories there to get around U.S. tariffs.
Chinese companies are finding ways around the U.S. tariffs, mainly by producing panels in other countries. Bloomberg News reports that “more than half the panel capacity Chinese producers plan to add overseas is in Southeast Asia.”
Solar energy giant JinkoSolar opened a massive solar panel factory with the capacity to make “500 megawatts of solar cells and 450 megawatts of panels a year.”
“Products from our Malaysian plant will be mainly exported to the U.S., but we’re eyeing global demand,” Sebastian Liu, JinkoSolar’s director of investor relations, told Bloomberg. “This isn’t temporary. JinkoSolar wants global manufacturing to avoid the risks posed by a single production location.”
Going forward, U.S. officials could expand tariffs against Chinese companies using other countries as launching points for solar panel exports. This would force solar installation companies to rely more on U.S. panel makers, but would also likely raise solar energy costs.
Clinton would have to increase subsidies for solar energy to get the 700 percent increase she promises, which will be made more difficult if tariffs make solar panels more expensive. The U.S. solar industry could still benefit from Clinton’s plan, but solar panel installers have complained that tariffs are already making panels more expensive and, therefore, less attractive to consumers.
“Keeping these stiff tariffs in place makes solar power less affordable, slows job growth and prevents more American homes, businesses and utilities from switching to clean solar energy,” Jigar Shah, president of the anti-tariff Coalition for Affordable Solar Energy, said in a statement on the Obama administration’s refusal to lower tariffs on Chinese panels.
“Despite booming solar employment, economically counterproductive tariffs have artificially made solar panels prices in the United States the most expensive in the world,” Shah said.
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