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China's solar companies building factories in US

By BELINDA ROBINSON in New York | China Daily Global | Updated: 2024-02-22 09:59

A view of a solar power facility in Tongchuan, Shaanxi province, in August. [YUAN JINGZHI/FOR CHINA DAILY]

Several of China's largest solar power companies are building factories in the United States, aiming to serve the growing US solar market.

At least four new factories backed by Chinese manufacturers will open this year. Most, if not all, have previously done the bulk of their manufacturing in Asia.

Once the factories are finished, the companies will have enough capacity to supply more than half of the 33 gigawatts of panels that were installed throughout the US last year.

Longi Green Energy Technology, based in Xi'an, the capital of Shaanxi province, is building a factory in Ohio in conjunction with Chicago-based Invenergy. Production of panels is expected to begin by March.

Trina Solar, another Chinese-owned company, announced in September that it will spend $200 million to build a factory in Wilmer, Texas. It will start operations by the summer.

"We have long had a vision to manufacture solar products in the US, and we are proud of the jobs we are creating and the investment we are making in the Wilmer community," Steven Zhu, president of Trina Solar US, said in a statement.

"Trina's goal in building this facility is to begin to create an ecosystem of American manufacturing that can serve the burgeoning US solar market," Zhu said.

China has quickly become a leader in solar panels, producing more than 80 percent of all panels sold worldwide.

In China, at least 12 percent of the country's electricity generation capacity comes from solar, according to the US Energy Information Administration, which said the figure for the US is 3.4 percent.

The technology was first developed in the US in the 1950s. But in recent years, the US industry has stalled and now reportedly has less than half the solar capacity of China.

Meanwhile, the US is a leader in producing silica sand, which is crucial in the process of solar generation. The country exports $470 million worth of silica sand each year, according to the Observatory of Economic Complexity, an online data distribution platform.

China is the largest importer of silica sand. Other large exporters of the mineral include Australia and Indonesia.

Daniel Kirschen, a professor of electrical and computer engineering at the University of Washington in Seattle, said: "Solar energy is a very important part of achieving a carbon-free future. Wind energy and solar energy are the most effective renewable energy sources."

The administration of US President Joe Biden has set ambitious targets for producing clean energy.

One option is for companies to use subsidies under the Inflation Reduction Act that reward solar manufacturers with incentives for panel installation and tax credits for manufacturing solar components in the US.

First Solar, a US company, invested $1.2 billion in local plants to boost its domestic manufacturing by 75 percent.

Biden championed the Inflation Reduction Act as a way to rebuild the US solar supply chain. The law provides an estimated $300 billion worth of subsidies over the next decade to stimulate the low-carbon transition and the onshore manufacturing of renewable energy.

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