As the country emerges from the COVID-19 pandemic, the solar industry continues to grapple with the rippling effects. While last year’s passage of the $1.2 trillion Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act established programs that help encourage market growth, the stalled Build Back Better bill meant a pivotal step was missed in ensuring a thriving industry and a cleaner, more resilient future.
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Particularly persistent issues are supply chain disruptions and increased pricing causing delays or outright cancellations of projects throughout the country. Problems began with global shipping complications due to pandemic-related obstacles exacerbated by last year’s ban on solar parts suspected of having links to forced labor in China’s Xinjiang Province.
The most recent development is the Department of Commerce’s investigation into whether four countries that supply about 80% of US solar panels and parts circumvent U.S. tariffs and use components from China. The probe has pushed up module prices by more than 35%, caused inflation of other materials, and moved multiple manufacturers to cancel orders. All this threatens the jobs of thousands of American solar industry workers, and hundreds of contractors, developers and financiers are struggling to stay in business.
However, though the obstacles seem insurmountable, there are some actions businesses can take to move projects forward.
Strategic Use of Existing Inventory
Shifting available inventory between active projects is one way to keep them progressing despite the current restrictions. This means prioritizing projects that may be moving faster than others when it comes to allocating supplies.
However, it does require flexibility around design. This can undoubtedly be a challenge given that sizing for each system involves so many factors such as power consumption demands, number and size of panels and inverter and, if applicable, battery sizing. Ideally, if an organization has strong in-house engineering or ready access to engineering expertise, they might be able to redesign as the company pivots supplies amongst their various projects.
Also, if a company can bear the cost, buying modules and other supplies in larger volumes can give them an advantage as it may shift their orders to the front of the line with suppliers.
Pushing the Policy Envelope
Moving forward around policy is extremely important right now. The solar industry can do its part to lobby for the creation of sound policies at the state and federal levels. Policies and programs that support solar proliferation like Renewable Portfolio Standards, net metering, Solar Renewable Energy Certificates (SRECs) and grid modernization will provide much-needed relief for the market.
Agitating for the proliferation of these kinds of policies and preventing harmful ones like the recent net metering laws being considered in California is essential for counteracting the impact of the current difficulties around access to supplies.
Since March, the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA) and other solar industry advocates have pushed Washington to end the anti-circumvention probe. Lawmakers are listening. In a recent letter to President Biden, 22 Republican and Democratic Senators called for an expedited preliminary decision about the probe due to its devastating effect on the solar industry. At a recent hearing, Nevada Senator Jacky Rosen told Secretary of Commerce Gina Raimondo that the investigation “will jeopardize tens of thousands of good-paying American solar jobs.” Stakeholders all along the solar value chain can keep the pressure on state lawmakers, the Biden Administration and the Commerce Department to end this incredibly damaging investigation.
A Creative and Persistent Approach
It is possible to realize a certain amount of project growth and maintain some kind of schedule in the face of such disruptive market conditions. Ultimately it requires staying nimble around operations and design and lobbying for advantageous policy initiatives. Of course, applying a healthy dose of patience and taking the long view is always helpful.
Scott Wiater is President & CEO of Standard Solar
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