Solar module makers seek Biden administration support

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Solar module makers seek Biden administration support

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Kyle Travis, left and Jon Jackson, with Lighthouse Solar, install microcrystalline PV modules on top of Kevin Donovan's town home. (Courtesy: Science in HD/Unsplash)

U.S. solar module manufacturers are asking for President Biden to back legislation that would bolster the domestic supply chain, calling the current moment "an inflection point" for the industry.

The Solar Energy Manufacturing for America Coalition asked Biden in a letter to put the weight of the White House behind long-term incentives for domestic manufacturing included in the Solar Energy Manufacturing for America Act. The bill, backed by Sen. Jon Ossoff (D-GA) passed in the U.S. House but has so far failed to gain traction in the Senate.

The group represents North American solar module manufacturers Heliene, First Solar, Meyer Burger Americas, Silfab Solar, and Auxin Solar, among others. They claim that the SEMA legislation would help Biden reach his own goal of 30 GW of annual solar deployment by 2025.

"The U.S. cannot remain reliant on overseas solar supply chains, nor can we assume those monopolized supply chains will continue to keep prices low," the group wrote. "Moving from foreign dependence on fossil fuels to foreign dependence on clean energy is not how we can truly build back better and meet our climate targets."

The critique of the U.S. dependence on foreign supply chains is largely focused on China. A report by the Ultra Low Carbon Solar Alliance found that Chinese producers hold 83% of global capacity for polysilicon production, 96% for wafers, 79% for cells, and 70% for modules.

U.S. solar module manufacturers, meanwhile, have to pay, at times, a 20% premium for non-Chinese polysilicon to avoid anti-dumping and other trade enforcement actions.

"SEMA will enhance competition throughout the solar supply chain, with global-scale American factories continuing to press forward cost savings in solar deployment, and bring the country’s ambitious climate goals within reach," the coalition said.

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Shortly after taking office, Biden signed an executive order calling for a review of American supply chains.

A comprehensive analysis of the U.S. clean energy supply chain by the Department of Energy found that incentives could offset the higher costs for domestic solar PV manufacturing, which can be 30-40% higher. LG recently announced that it would exit the solar industry entirely, resulting in the closure of its Huntsville, Alabama manufacturing facility, because of "uncertainties" in the market.

DOE recommended that the U.S. expand thin-film module production, which isn't reliant on China for input materials. The agency suggested that cell production and establishing the first international standards for inverters also present opportunities to improve the domestic supply chain.

The U.S. solar PV supply chain will, above all else, need significant financial support from the federal government, the report notes. With the right support, the U.S. could take strategic actions on workforce development, manufacturing, human rights, and trade.