Cost of Solar

HERD ABOUT IT?

by Ana Grarian

BEIJING — Aided by at least $43 million in assistance from the government of Massachusetts and an innovative solar energy technology, Evergreen Solar emerged in the last three years as the third-largest maker of solar panels in the United States.

Good news for us right? Not so fast – read on…..

But now the company is closing its main American factory, laying off the 800 workers by the end of March and shifting production to a joint venture with a Chinese company in central China. Although solar energy still accounts for only a tiny fraction of American power production, declining prices and concerns about global warming give solar power a prominent place in United States plans for a clean energy future — even if critics say the federal government is still not doing enough to foster its adoption.

No – our government is too busy partying with the gas and oil folks. Heaven forbid US consumers should actually have access to affordable methods of using clean energy.

World prices of solar panels have been consistently falling, including a 10% drop in the 4th quarter of 2010, mostly because of government support. In the US the price of intallation has fallen due to government grants, loans etc., but the cost of the panels themselves have not.

Chinese solar panel manufacturers accounted for slightly over half the world’s production last year. Their share of the American market has grown nearly sixfold in the last two years, to 23 percent in 2010 and is still rising fast, according to GTM Research, a renewable energy market analysis firm in Cambridge, Mass. Factory labor is cheap in China, where monthly wages average less than $300. That compares to a statewide average of more than $5,400 a month for Massachusetts factory workers. But labor is a tiny share of the cost of running a high-tech solar panel factory, Mr. El-Hillow said. China’s real advantage lies in the ability of solar panel companies to form partnerships with local governments and then obtain loans at very low interest rates from state-owned banks.

Evergreen expects to owe very little in return for the grants it had obtained, because it has provided 800 jobs since 2008. Therein lies the rub for many projects that recieve grants and or tax breaks. A short term job creation – like say for construction -is seen as a boon to the community. Often these are outside workers who do not live within the community except during the work week. Or, as in Evergreen’s project, they do raise hope for a community, only to abandon it when someone else offers a sweeter pie.

Lonterm commitment by our government to solar energy could create the demand that would allow for a lower cost for US made panels, and jobs, jobs, jobs….Jobs to build, install and repair panels. And healthier lives for all as we wean away from dirty energy sources such as oil and gas. I’ve never heard of a community facing evacuation because of solar panels, unlike leaking natural gas pipes and storage facilities.

Quoted text from The NY Times Sat. Jan 15, 2011 Article by Keith Bradsher