One of the first things that President Biden did when he took office was to put the U.S. back on a clean energy path. He rejoined the Paris Climate Accord, installed a dynamic E.P.A. chief, and put forth an aggressive budget proposal that puts clean energy at the forefront of his plan. If he can get his agenda through Congress, it could be very advantageous for the solar energy industry in particular. The HBCU Clean Energy initiative outlines three of the most likely ways the industry can benefit.
Although Americans invented the first silicon solar cell at Bell Labs in 1954, China has become the dominant leader in manufacturing solar parts and modules. Through substantial subsidies, the Chinese have made it extremely difficult for American companies to compete. However, President Biden is determined to make our country less reliant on foreign players and to have the U.S. become the leader in clean energy manufacturing. And while it may be an uphill battle because of China’s enormous lead, it’s worth fighting. If solar parts are produced again domestically, it will help free the U.S. from relying on other countries and ease the transition to 100% carbon-free electricity by 2035, a Biden campaign pledge. “Also, shipping solar parts and materials worldwide contributes to greenhouse gas emissions,” said Desari Strader, President and founder of Violet Power, a company that last year announced its intention to create an integrated solar manufacturing supply chain in the United States. “If you truly care about climate change, you put your energy source near your supply chain and feedstock,” Strader said.
Made in America
Biden recently signed an executive order instructing the Federal government to give preference to domestic manufacturers when procuring goods and services. “This order is deeply intertwined with the President’s commitment to invest in American manufacturing, including clean energy and critical supply chains, grow good-paying, union jobs, and advance racial equity,” the White House said in a statement. Industry leaders have welcomed Biden’s order. “It sends a signal to the market that the federal government wants to buy a lot of solar panels, and they want them made in America,” said Bob Keefe, executive director of E2, a business group that advocates for clean energy jobs. Minh Le, who directed the SunShot Initiative at the Department of Energy’s Solar Energy Technologies Office under former President Obama, says, “Solar panels could be installed at Federal facilities all across the country.” Le also believes that the Biden administration will add a number of other incentive programs that will support domestic manufacturing and the entire solar supply chain.
New Clean Energy Jobs
With over 10 million Americans currently unemployed, the Biden administration has to make job creation a priority. One idea that seems to have some bipartisan support would be the launch of a Civilian Climate Corp similar to the program that F.D.R. set up as part of the New Deal. The group could help restore wetlands, build solar farms, improve and build new parks, and reverse the loss of tree canopies, which has made cities especially vulnerable to global warming. The plan would also aim to recruit minorities in disadvantaged communities and teach skills that could eventually be utilized in private industry. Even if a new budget is not approved, there is still a good possibility that this program can get up and running, even if it means borrowing funds from various agencies such as the Department of Agriculture.
In addition to the CCC, installations of wind and solar have rocketed as states have imposed mandates which require a certain amount of renewable or emissions-free generating capacity. Currently, most solar employment is in installation. However, if manufacturing comes back to the U.S., more employment opportunities would be created to meet the needs of manufacturing and the rest of the supply chain. For example, power generated from solar farms in the desert will need to be efficiently delivered to cities which means a plethora of new transmission lines.
In summary, while it’s undoubtedly an ambitious goal for the U.S. to produce carbon-free electricity by 2035, it’s not an impossible target. Solar and wind power have tremendous potential to replace our dependence on oil. Transitioning more fully to these industries will not only help our planet but will also replace some of the good-paying manufacturing jobs lost over the last several decades. This plan could help restore the faith in government that has been lost over the past several years. Let’s hope Congress is finally ready to take serious action.
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