Suntech’s bankruptcy and Bosch’s decision to get out of solar are a signal that the industry’s realignment to more realistic and sustainable production levels continues to exact a toll on companies in the manufacturing sector. But there’s no reason for the average citizen, hopeful that solar will become a big contributor in the clean energy future, to fret.
Seriously: Did you miss the story with the headline, “US Solar Busts Out Another Record-Breaking Year”? After the U.S. industry installed 3,313 megawatts of new capacity in 2012 – a 76 percent increase over 2011’s 1,887 MW – only a fool or someone addled by the Fox News Kool-Aid would think solar is in trouble (let alone “tanking our economy”).
Manufacturing companies and manufacturing jobs are indeed being shed, the inevitable result of overly exuberant investment into that side of the equation, particularly by China, Suntech’s home base. China, it appears, has now decided to support its domestic industry by investing in installing solar, instead of propping up companies who got too big too fast and couldn’t sell cheaply into a crowded market forever. (The duties slapped on the company by the U.S. – with more possible from Europe – certainly spelled the end for that jig, too.)
So Suntech closed a plant in Arizona (60 jobs). But next door in Nevada, installer SolarCity last week “announced that it plans to open a new location in Nevada, and expects to create hundreds of jobs in the state in the next several years.” The company credited the state’s governor and its economic development office with some subsidies (valued, apparently, at around $1.2 million) to lure the jobs to Nevada.
And if you think this is some kind of liberal scheme, stop right there. This was the work of Republican Gov. Brian Sandoval. That a Republican governor would put effort and money behind luring a solar concern to his state tells us a couple of important things: solar is a growing enterprise, and the stain of Solyndra (that ridiculously hyped and misunderstood story) is fading fast.
Here’s what Sandoval knows: In 2012, a year rife with strife, the solar power industry in the United States continued to chug along, adding 13,872 employees in the year ended in September, a 13.2 percent increase that brought total domestic employment to 119,016.
As Andrea Luecke, executive director of the Solar Foundation, put it: “During the past several years, the solar industry has grown at significantly higher rates than most other industries, making it one of the foremost creators of new jobs in the United States.”
And Suntech and Bosch notwithstanding, that’s not going to stop.