Solar’s role in Biden’s plan to “Build Back Better”

The Biden Administration has placed significant emphasis on its Build Back Better Agenda, a plan to create jobs, cut taxes and lower costs for working families. The solar industry has an opportunity to tap into that message while combatting climate change and shoring up domestic supply chains — two more equally large points of concern for the country. It’s time to bring back manufacturing jobs to the U.S. solar market.

I was at the ground-breaking event in August for First Solar’s third manufacturing facility in Northwest Ohio. This expansion is expected to support 700 new jobs, something Secretary of Labor Marty Walsh praised in his address to the crowd. Many other government officials and First Solar representatives spoke, often commenting on how these new jobs will help America compete directly with China for manufacturing prowess, but that the United States will treat its workers with dignity and respect — a less than subtle dig at China, in light of forced labor concerns in the Xinjiang region.

This will all make better sense once you read our review of the back-and-forth between the United States and China for solar manufacturing dominance on pg. 34. While the news of First Solar’s 700 additional jobs in U.S. panel manufacturing is great, the company makes thin-film panels, not the industry-standard crystalline silicon. There is an even larger opportunity here at home to build back our silicon solar supply chain.

All silicon solar panel manufacturers in the United States are just panel assemblers — they depend on imported silicon cells (and the wafers and ingots before them) to make completed modules. With China holding over 80% of the world’s polysilicon supply, there’s a lot the U.S. solar manufacturing industry has no control over. If the country wants to hit renewable energy targets and bring back more jobs, we have to start making all components of a solar panel here at home.

A good first step: The Senate introduced a tax credit for manufacturers in the U.S. solar panel supply chain earlier this year. If passed, it could give more incentive to ingot and wafer manufacturers to set up in the country, allowing us to hop off the Chinese supply chain, combat climate change and support more jobs — in one smooth action.

All the props to First Solar for making big solar manufacturing moves. Now let’s just get the solar silicon market to follow suit.

Kelly Pickerel
Editor in Chief
[email protected]

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