The US has a reputation for its world-class solar research while China is recognized as the world’s largest solar manufacturer. A new report, The New Solar System, published by Stanford University researchers recommends that the US and China work together to efficiently expand the international solar market by reassessing trade policies and by collaborating in research and development.
Solar currently generates about 1 percent of the world’s total electricity and is expected to grow to 16 percent—or more, by 2050, according to the International Energy Agency. With combined efforts the US and China could significantly increase solar on a worldwide stage, as well as build on the countries’ ratification of the Paris Climate Agreement.
“The Chinese are not only leading the world in terms of the manufacturing of solar equipment, but they are also the largest deployer of solar energy,” said Dan Reicher, executive director of the Steyer-Taylor Center for Energy Policy and Finance at Stanford, and report co-author. “They are getting increasingly competitive in the research and development area, which the US has historically been dominating. With a new federal administration and a new Congress, this is the time to be thinking about what we want the US role in solar industry to look like five, 10 years from now.”
The report recommended that the US embrace the global solar industry by reforming policies mandating that companies receiving federal funding for research must manufacture technologies domestically. It argued that if the US concentrates on research and development instead of manufacturing, it could create more long-term economic value in its own market as well as internationally.
“A more-enlightened United States policy approach to solar would seek above all to continue slashing solar power’s costs—not to prop up types of American solar manufacturing that can’t compete globally. It would leverage, not aim to bury, China’s manufacturing superiority, with closer cooperation on solar research and development. It would focus American solar subsidies more on research and development and deployment than on manufacturing. As solar manufacturing continues to automate, reducing China’s cheap-labor advantage, it is likely to make more sense in the United States, at least for certain sorts of solar products,” Reicher wrote in a New York Times op-ed about the research.
The report says it is important to debunk China’s reputation as a manufacturer only, that it’s not investing in its own research and development. It is, according to the report, which offered the example of Trina Solar, which set a new world conversion efficiency record of 22.6% for a multicrystalline silicon solar cell in December 2016. With this accomplishment, Trina Solar became the first Chinese company recognized by the US National Renewable Energy Laboratory for its research.
The report also addresses the misconception that the Chinese market is closed to foreign investment. To the contrary, the report said that Chinese solar companies are eager to take advantage of international capital and implement more efficient financing models that have been used in Western countries to ramp up its influence in the international solar market.Tweet