Commercial, Industrial, Solar - June 19, 2017 - By Abigail Ross Hopper
C&I solar installations have a bright future, but not if Suniva gets its way
Our recent report with GTM Research showed once again that the solar industry is on the rise. But last quarter's report, Q2 2017 U.S. Solar Market Insight, contained a warning: A trade case filed by a company named Suniva could slash PV installations.
The impact would be enormous on the commercial and industrial part of our industry, with an expected 11,000 jobs lost, the slowing of growth for corporate projects and a massive lost opportunity for C&I customers to choose cleaner and cheaper forms of electricity.
The U.S. solar industry added more than 2,044 MW of new capacity in the first quarter of this year, marking the sixth straight quarter in which more than two gigawatts of solar was installed. However, solar's growth is threatened by Suniva's Section 201 trade petition with the International Trade Commission. If the ITC grants Suniva’s request, this blunt instrument will cost 88,000 American solar jobs and, in turn, bring solar growth in all sectors to a screeching halt.
In effect, Suniva, a bankrupt company owned by the Chinese, and SolarWorld, whose German parent company is insolvent, are seeking economic relief from more competitive panels from other parts of the world. The sad truth is that Suniva is asking for a handout so that the venture capital firm that is first in line for Suniva's assets can reclaim its bad investment. They have no actual plan for reviving manufacturing.
And then there are the 38,000 other manufacturing jobs in the solar sector supply chain that are threatened by this petition. The real tragedy is that these great jobs will dry up if this self-serving petition prevails.
The case is alarming across all sectors of the solar industry, and it isn't just us saying it. The cost of solar panels will double or more, according to analysts such as ClearView Energy Partners and Bloomberg New Energy Finance.
SEIA's Solar Means Business report showed that leading corporate users, among them Target, Walmart, Prologis, and Apple, have now installed more than 1 GW of solar electric generating capacity. Since 2012, the top 10 corporate users have increased their solar capacity by 240%.
The nearly 11,000 commercial sector job losses represents a drop of 44%. And this is regrettable for a lot of reasons, the most significant of which is that real people will lose well-paying jobs in an industry that is creating clean and affordable energy. The biggest C&I job losses would come from California, Colorado, Minnesota and Nevada.
It's too bad, because the commercial and industrial space is still a largely untapped source of new solar. Instead of dropping by 44%, C&I employment in solar should be skyrocketing. The sector grew 29% over the first quarter of last year, and there is no reason to think that growth rate can’t continue.
SEIA and GTM Research forecast that 12.6 GW will come online in 2017, just 10% less than 2016's boom, when the market grew by 98%.
There is no question that the dark Suniva cloud threatens to douse the industry's progress, and we need help to fight the battle and preserve solar's growth. But if we can stop this ill-conceived effort to prop up underperformers, U.S. solar capacity will triple in size, to more than 128 GW by 2022. By that time, there will be enough solar to power the equivalent of more than 22 million American homes and add a whole lot of new solar-powered commercial and industrial facilities while we are at it.
Abigail Ross Hopper is the President and CEO of the Solar Energy Industries Association, the national trade organization for America's solar energy industries. She oversees all of SEIA's activities, including government affairs, research, communications, and industry leadership.
Before joining SEIA, Abby was the Director of the Department of Interior's Bureau of Ocean Energy Management. As the BOEM's second director, she weighed complex and sometimes conflicting factors to achieve balanced federal energy policy.
She served formerly as the Director of the Maryland Energy Administration (MEA) and has broad experience in the energy sector, including working with a wide variety of stakeholders as well as legal expertise. Abby previously spent over two years as Deputy General Counsel with the Maryland Public Service Commission, during which she advised commissioners on a broad range of legal matters arising from their duties as utility regulators.
Before embarking on a career in public service, Abby spent nine years in private practice where she specialized in complex merger and investment counseling and corporate law. Abby graduated Cum Laude from the University of Maryland School of Law and earned a Bachelor of Arts Degree from Dartmouth College.