Several large U.S. solar developers have announced a new coalition that will buy up to $6 billion in made-in-America panels, in a move that could more than double the country’s panel-manufacturing capacity.
The new US Solar Buyer Consortium said yesterday it had opened a request for proposals from U.S. manufacturers who could supply up to 7 gigawatts of solar panels per year, starting in 2024.
That amount is well beyond the 4.8 GW of panels produced last year in the United States, according to National Renewable Energy Laboratory estimates. And it is likely greater than what President Joe Biden has sought to bring online using the federal government’s buying power.
The move is the latest indication that U.S. solar installers are placing renewed emphasis on sourcing their equipment domestically, even as the industry’s alarm about access to Asian supplies has relaxed somewhat.
The consortium’s members — AES Corp., Clearway Energy Group, Cypress Creek Renewables and D.E. Shaw Renewable Investments — said in a joint statement that they hoped to promote on-shoring of panel production, which is largely done in Asia.
The request for proposals, they said, was intended to “create lasting resiliency and alleviate constraints faced by the industry today.”
Craig Cornelius, chief executive of Clearway Energy Group, called the announcement “just one step toward bolstering America’s solar supply chain.” He also urged Congress to “seize the opportunity” and create new incentives for U.S. solar manufacturing — something that has repeatedly stalled as part of a larger climate package sought by the Biden administration.
“With legislation pending before Congress, policymakers can scale our domestic manufacturing workforce and restore our country’s legacy as a manufacturing leader,” Cornelius said.
In the United States, about 24 GW of solar capacity was installed last year, according to industry estimates. Trade groups are trying to convince Congress to pass incentives that could grow U.S. panel-making capacity to 30 GW per year by 2025, according to manufacturers’ estimates. Last week, the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA) said executives from roughly two dozen of its member companies had shown up at the Hill in an attempt to generate support for a law (E&E Daily, June 16).
In a statement yesterday, SEIA President and CEO Abigail Ross Hopper seized on the consortium’s formation as “a clear signal that companies are ready to make significant investments in clean energy manufacturing if Congress delivers supportive policies.”
“Solar industry leaders are eager to invest in domestic manufacturing and strengthen the domestic supply chain, but they can’t do it without support from Congress,” she added.
Pol Lezcano, a solar analyst at BloombergNEF, said the consortium’s emergence might reflect a bet, by large solar companies, that federal policy will eventually favor domestic manufacturers.
“This announcement indicates, in my opinion, that big US developers expect advantages from buying US-made modules in the future,” he wrote in an email to E&E News. “It also proves that US developers will not care about getting the cheapest module possible, as the overall economics of solar should outperform other power sources in many regions and the demand from utilities and corporates will keep rising.”
The consortium’s members may also be trying to insure themselves against import restrictions and supply-chain uncertainties that could still exist in coming years, Lezcano added.
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