You know, the debate over SolarWorld’s trade complaint against Chinese panel manufacturers is so interesting to me (I’ve been accused of saying this is interesting because I have some financial interest in seeing it keep going (see the comments section on this post) but I swear to everyone I haven’t.
What I find most interesting in the public infighting within the industry. I still don’t know where I come down on this (but I’m working on putting something together for the February column for the magazine — so stay tuned). But I do worry when you have a public spat like this that it weakens the industry overall. I’d like to tip my hat to TriplePundit for this post, which outlines the latest chapter of the dispute. I wish we could handle this internal industry dispute behind closed doors instead of people taking potshots at each other through the media (although I’ve worked pretty hard to present both sides, here and here — but I work for trade publication). TriplePundit outlines the problem pretty well — it’s the panel manufacturers vs. the downstream installers. No matter how this turns out, I worry that the trust between these two critical segments of the industry might be irreparably harmed. And although I like the overall post, I don’t agree with TriplePundit’s conclusion: I believe the better course may be SolarWorld’s to protect U.S. manufacturers from unfair trade practices. But as I say, I’m not entirely convinced yet — we’ll have to see how this plays out.
The other story I want to bring to your attention is this one from The Motley Fool. It examines why solar power costs so much more in the United States than it does in Germany. The revelatory point for me was that Germany has basically gotten to its position as the leading country for solar installations in the world by focusing on small-bore projects — residential and commercial primarily, while the United States focuses more of its energy on utility-scale projects. That has fueled a rapid growth of the industry in Germany because the amount of land necessary is lower and the overall price is lower as well. It’s a model the United States would do well to follow.
Now I can’t get out of this post without pointing out that there is some controversy in Germany right now about the potential cutting the subsidies that have also helped fuel the growth (one of our intelligent commenters explained to me), so the exponential growth may be on the verge of being slowed considerably. But I think it’s worth it to the SEIA to look at the German model to figure out where it should spend its energies in lobbying national leaders for policies that will support the industry for the long haul (and they should also take the combatants in the trade dispute behind closed doors and perhaps tell them to keep their mouths shut in public).