It was an active week in the solar industry with news of unprecedented solar job growth and the launch of a few sleek new products. A new IRENA report that revealed solar jobs are growing 17 times faster than the U.S. economy, SolarWorld’s newfound support of Suniva’s trade petition and Mercedes Benz’ new home storage product are the big headlines from this week’s Solar News Report.
New report reveals solar industry growing 17x faster than overall U.S. economy
A new report from the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) unveiled some momentous statistics about the solar industry in 2016. Industry employment grew by 24 percent, a rate 17 times as fast as the current growth rate of the entire U.S. economy. In addition, the percentage of women working in solar is growing: recent figures suggest some 30 percent of industry employees are women compared to 19 percent in 2013. One reason for solar’s significant job growth: a sweet spot between good wages and an attainable skill set. “It seems to be one of the few areas of high-paying, blue-collar jobs — and you don’t have to learn to code,” said Bryan Birsic, CEO of Wunder Capital, a solar finance tech company.
SolarWorld joins Suniva’s trade petition
China now manufacturers roughly 70 percent of the world’s solar panels due to its incredibly low cost of production. This export imbalance and the resulting trade deficits have recently gotten some media attention following the bankruptcy of U.S. solar maker Suniva. After filing for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in early 2017, Suniva filed a petition with the United States International Trade Commission (ITC) to suggest a hefty tariff be placed on solar panel imports from China. In short, Suniva claimed that their bankruptcy occurred due to unfair competition. Now, German panel behemoth SolarWorld is joining the cause.
Both companies offer a solar product that is made in America, relatively rare in the U.S. solar industry. While Suniva hails from Atlanta, Georgia with production facilities in Georgia and Michigan, SolarWorld sources its manufacturing in Oregon. SolarWorld had originally stated they would not be supporting Suniva’s trade case, but have since reversed that stance. “We have hoped and waited for serious proposals for settling the overall U.S. solar industry’s trade tensions with China, but we have received none,” said Juergen Stein, President of SolarWorld Americas. “Therefore, we have decided to join the case to pursue the best remedy available to us to restore fair competition in the U.S. market.” The International Trade Commission will make its decision on the trade case by September 22 and will then submit its official recommendation to President Trump.
Mercedez Benz announces battery product
This past week, Mercedez Benz made an entry into the U.S. home storage market with the launch of a new battery product the size of a mini fridge. The battery will be sold and distributed in partnership with Vivint Solar, a large national installer, for $5,000 to $13,000. Mercedes is following in the footsteps of Tesla – both companies are using their expertise in electric car manufacturing to expand into home storage, with Tesla launching its industry-leading Tesla Powerwall battery product. The Mercedes product is already on the market in Europe and South Africa, but this partnership represents its first entry into U.S. energy storage.