US solar: The next four years could get ugly

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Donald Trump’s election doesn’t augur well for US solar. Worse news, however, is the Republican Party has retained control of the US Senate.

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Wikimedia/Gage Skidmore.
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PV Magazine

The results of the 2016 US Presidential and Senate Elections are a worst-case scenario for the U.S. solar industry, and no federal support is safe.

Wikimedia/Gage Skidmore.
Wikimedia/Gage Skidmore.

The U.S. solar industry has seen most of its growth in an environment where we at the very least had one benefactor in the federal government, where the country had the support of President Obama. That is over now.

In a narrow race, the United States has elected a man who knows little about energy, who surrounds himself with people who likewise know little, and who appeals to an ignorant base in part by repeating myths about solar and wind. He is not even a throwback to the 20th century, but someone who has built a regressive fantasy based on the worst parts of that century.

This alone would be a significant problem for the solar industry (and the nation); however, equally problematic is that the Republican Party has retained control of the U.S. Senate, meaning that Mitch McConnell (R-Kentucky) remains as Majority Leader and Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) will remain Chair of Energy and Natural Resources Committee.

This is not good news. It also means that the Republicans now control every one of the bodies needed to make and pass legislation. And while there are Republican solar advocates in Arizona and Georgia, make no mistake that the mainstream of the Republican Party is utterly hostile to both environmental concerns and renewable energy. With such control there is no environmental law that cannot be undone, and no federal policy support for solar that is safe.

Trump will not be able to bring back coal in a meaningful way as he has promised, but he can significantly thwart solar if he and the Republican government decide to pre-emptively end the 30% solar Investment Tax Credit (ITC), which was recently extended to 2020.

Additionally, the federal research and development support for solar under the Department of Energy’s SunShot Initiative also has a dubious future from a man who thinks that solar panels have a 10-year lifespan and a 28-year payback period (switch these figures and it is closer to reality).

If there is a saving grace, it is that other than the ITC the most important policies for solar are at the state and not the national level. Trump’s presidency will not undo the renewable portfolio standards in California or New York, or the implementation of PURPA in North Carolina and Utah.

The solar industry will survive this, as the raw economics of solar will continue to pave the way for growth. The boom in the market in Texas is proof of this, as Texas’ grid operator expects to install 13 GW of solar PV by 2030 – without any real subsidies at the state level.

But at the federal level the next four years will be ugly, and there could well be real damage to the solar industry.

Source: PV Magazine. Reproduced with permission.

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6 Comments
  1. solarguy 3 years ago

    Trumps election is an unfortunate global tragedy, not just for solar but the worlds economy and climate. Gee, I hope I’m wrong.

    • john 3 years ago

      Well there is a country down under that totally stopped any wind development federally and one of the manufacturers shut up shop so it depends.
      As expected it will be local and state government that pick up the slack.

  2. Geoff 3 years ago

    This is the worst result and on so many levels. I fear that America will eventually collapse due to the environmental damage that will happen while he tries and makes the US an energy superpower. Think of abbott and what he did in 2 years, now amplify that by 10 and add another 2 years on top! the US China relations that was so pivotal to the Paris Agreement is now in taters and good luck getting him to any UN COP meetings or anything meaningful to be a global citizen. He will isolate the US and that will have repercussions for all of us. Well done america, well f#*kin done.

  3. Rob G 3 years ago

    Trump likes to be popular and claims he is not beholden to vested interests. He WAS a democrat once and has said before that if he were to ever run for president he would stand as a Republican because republican voters are stupid, he’d lie to them and have them eating out of his hand. I cling to this position, that he is closer to the progressive side and I still believe he wants to bust up the republican vested interests. If he did comply with the Paris pact, then he would be in a better position to push congress into action than Hillary would have been. Renewables represent much of what he preaches – keeps jobs local etc. For this, I remain hopeful – maybe foolishly so, but hopeful nonetheless.

  4. SpartyNeil 3 years ago

    Way to early to pass judgement on the US solar industry. The horrible free trade agreements and high taxes have made it impossible to develop a manufacturing company that can build in the US and sell overseas. In 20 years in manufacturing I have never had a Japanese, Chinese or Korean company buy my US products despite technical advantages in many cases. India and China mandate local content while their manufacturers pay 0 to 3.4% for an import tariff into the US. There may be short term policy changes but for US companies to succeed we need far more favorable general business climate and need to be treated on even ground selling and buying overseas.

  5. brucelee 3 years ago

    Solar technology is far enough down the cost curve and always improving, the next phase is reducing the soft costs. This can be justified by the myriad of projects constructed and their proven performance vs risk. Reducing /cancelling the ITC will cause a slow down, but it may only be the speed hump that forces the required innovation to the soft costs.

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