‘I love coal’…a refrain that was common on the Candidate Trump campaign trail. But no matter how many environmental rules President Trump revokes…coal isn’t coming back. Coal jobs aren’t coming back. Natural gas is cleaner, easier to handle and right now a lot cheaper. If coal does start to come back…there still won’t be coal jobs…except for those needed to keep the robots running. Really. That’s the real story.
But while the president maintains his fascination with coal…the headway we’ve made in solar power is about to collapse and be taken over by China. And this is apparently totally off the president’s radar. But after years of supporting development of solar power and subsidizing it and taking a fall with the collapse of Solyndra…Washington (and Trump more than most) has totally missed the shift of focus on solar from the United States to China:
Late last summer, Chinese officials began publicly toying with slashing the subsidies they offer domestic solar-panel buyers.
China’s solar-panel makers cut their prices by more than a quarter to compensate, sending global prices plummeting. Western companies found themselves unable to compete, and cut jobs from Germany to Michigan to Texas and points beyond.
President Trump, who pressed President Xi Jinping of China on trade and other issues this week when they met at Mar-a-Lago in Palm Beach, Fla., has vowed to end what he calls China’s unfair business practices. Much of his oratory has involved old-fashioned smokestack industries like steel — industries in which the jobs were already disappearing even before the rise of China.
But economists and business groups warn that China’s industrial ambitions have entered a new, far-reaching phase. With its deep government pockets, growing technical sophistication and a comprehensive plan to free itself from dependence on foreign companies, China aims to become dominant in industries of the future like renewable energy, big data and self-driving cars.
So as President Trump continues to vow to make America Great Again…his focus is hindsight…not a vision of the future. So he is totally missing the economic stories that are defining the 21st Century.
With solar, it has already happened. China is now home to two-thirds of the world’s solar-production capacity. The efficiency with which its products convert sunlight into electricity is increasingly close to that of panels made by American, German and South Korean companies. Because China also buys half of the world’s new solar panels, it now effectively controls the market.
The story of China’s rise in solar panels illustrates the profound difficulties the country presents to Mr. Trump, or to any American president. Its size and fast-moving economy give it the ability to redefine industries almost on a dime. Its government-led pursuit of dominance in crucial industries presents a direct challenge to countries where leaders generally leave business decisions to the businesses themselves.
Chinese panel makers “have the capital, they have the technology, they have the scale,” said Ocean Yuan, the chief executive of Grape Solar, a distributor of solar panels based in Eugene, Ore. Of American rivals, he said, “they will crush them.”
So is it already too late to be the major player in solar energy? A field that we were ‘counting’ on as one of the ways the United States would overcome its reliance on fossil fuels and foreign oil? Are we going to just sit back and cede the market to China while fixating on last century technologies and visions of our past glories? Although the article says any US president would be challenged by the intensity of these changes and China’s ability to dominate a market, President Donald Trump is most likely the most ill-equipped president we could have possibly put in the White House. So instead of leading new energy and alternative energy production in the new century we are going to waste our time pretending to reclaim the technologies of the past?
Interesting side fact…the Chinese know how to play by the rules and still win:
China has led the world in solar panel production. But recently, Chinese companies have been building factories outside China, particularly in Malaysia and Vietnam, to bypass anti-dumping and anti-subsidy measures that the United States and European Union imposed on Chinese-made panels four years ago.