President Trump says he loves solar, but “it's not powerful enough yet." He’s wrong.


In last night’s presidential debate, President Donald Trump responded to former Vice President Joe Biden’s assertion that solar and wind were the fastest-growing industries in America by saying that wind is “extremely expensive” and “very intermittent”. 

He said he loves solar, but “solar doesn’t quite have it yet—it’s not quite powerful enough yet to really run our big, beautiful factories.”

He’s wrong about that.

president donald trump and joe biden talking about climate change and renewable energy
Source: C-SPAN

What President Trump seems to have missed 

Maybe the President missed the headlines in 2019 about how building new solar installations is cheaper than operating existing coal plants, or the headlines from just this month about how solar is now the cheapest electricity in the history of the world. 

Perhaps he missed it when GM announced that their Spring Hill, Tennessee manufacturing plant will be powered by 100% solar energy by late 2022. By the way, that’s GM’s largest facility in the country. 

It’s possible that the President was too busy to notice those headlines while his administration was imposing tariffs on solar cells and modules that cost the U.S. solar industry 62,000 jobs and $19 billion in new private sector investment. 

Those actions don’t exactly sound like they could be taken by a person who “loves solar”.

The facts of the matter 

We’ll grant that it’s not currently possible to power most large U.S. manufacturing plants from on-site solar panels entirely—but it’s also not possible for those same plants to run on any kind of on-site generation.

Smaller facilities are, however, able to run  almost entirely on solar power. For example, a plant in Germany that manufactures electric equipment produces more energy than it uses every year using solar panels and a small combined heat and power (CHP) facility. 

In the case of the GM plant mentioned above, the electricity will be fed into the Tennessee Valley Authority grid from a plant in Mississippi, and purchased at a special solar rate by GM. Pairing off-site solar generation with huge industrial users of electricity like this is one way our country can reach 100% clean energy in the coming decades.

In the past 15 years, solar power has grown by leaps and bounds, ahead of even the most ambitious projections. The graphic below compares the actual growth in solar installations with projections from the International Energy Agency since 2006. 

Not one time have their predictions come close to the actual growth curve.

annual pv projections

Source: Auke Hoekstra

The reason solar has grown so quickly is because it’s the best form of electricity generation human beings have come up with so far. 

Solar is not the future, it is the present, and with the right support from a government that truly understands and supports its growth, it will transform our energy supply in just the next 10 years.

Of course, other countries are already embracing this transformation. Do we want the United States to fall even further behind? 

I don’t.

Editorial note: SolarReviews supports the goals of a 100% carbon-free energy supply in the United States, and believes that smart national and state solar policy should play a part in achieving that goal. Continuing to build a clean energy economy will result in millions of new jobs, billions of dollars in economic growth and the improvement of life on our planet.

 - Author of Solar Reviews

Ben Zientara

Solar Policy Analyst and Researcher

Ben is a writer, researcher, and data analysis expert who has worked for clients in the sustainability, public administration, and clean energy sectors.

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