A provision in a military authorization law signed recently by President Obama prohibits the Defense Department from buying Chinese-made solar panels. Renewable energy is particularly attractive to the U.S. military because shipping fuel to remote bases around the world is very expensive.
“We’ve had a lot of money taken out of this country and invested in other places around the world, particularly China, and particularly in alternative energies. For them to be producing alternative energy, that’s great, but we need to do it ourselves, and as much of it as possible,” said Democrat Maurice Hinchey from New York. (Source: New York Times)
Solar panel producers in China are subsidized, so the cost of their panels has dropped below those made in the United States, and Chinese solar panels are big business in the U.S. due to their lower prices. Recently a Massachusetts solar energy company with 800 employees closed, due to the solar panel market being flooded with cheaper Chinese panels.
“Solar manufacturers in China have received considerable government and financial support and, together with their low manufacturing costs, have become price leaders within the industry. While the United States and other western industrial economies are beneficiaries of rapidly declining installation costs of solar energy, we expect the United States will continue to be at a disadvantage from a manufacturing standpoint,” said Evergreen’s CEO Michael El-Hillow. (Source: CNET)
Last year Chinese solar firms shipped solar panels worth about $6.6 billion to the United States. Manufacturers in China hold 43 percent of the global photo-voltaic panel market. (Source: Bloomberg.com) Solar panel manufacturing is not the only way Chinese companies are influencing the global market. One of their larger solar panel manufacturers opened a solar power plant in Arizona recently which generates 30 megawatts of electricity.
Since Congress passed a law requiring the Defense Department to buy American-made solar panels, is there any ethical dilemma for American consumers? If these consumers inform themselves about the international trade context, and how one major competitor has driven their prices down with government subsidies, should they be concerned enough to consider also only buying solar technology manufactured in their own countries? Would you be willing to pay a foreign company for your power?