Afternoon TEA: China Plays US on Solar
We’ve talked here a lot about how China has a near monopoly on materials commonly called rare earth metals and other minerals that are necessary ingredients to build solar panels, as well as wind turbines and the batteries in electric vehicles. In recent years, China has supplied up to 80 percent of the rare earths imported by the United States. And, the small amount of rare earths that are mined in the U.S. are usually shipped to China because they have 85 percent of the world’s capacity to process those ores into the materials manufacturers can actually use.
But, China’s dominance doesn’t stop with these base ingredients and their processing. For years, the Chinese government has been working to corner the global solar energy market by heavily subsidizing the industry in their own country. Between 2003 and 2011, China’s share of the global solar market shot up from 2 percent to more than 60 percent. Add to that the fact that China saves on wages by using forced labor of its citizens to produce solar materials in factories that are powered by coal-fired power plants (a Chinese solar panel has about twice the carbon footprint of a panel manufactured elsewhere). As a result of this heavy subsidization, indiscriminate pollution, and human rights abuses, China has dominated a solar market in which few other countries can compete.
And Beijing’s quest for solar dominance isn’t just in China, it’s right here in our own American backyard. Eight of the top ten solar companies in the world are Chinese. Only one is American, but even they do some of their manufacturing in Asia. Three of the largest makers of solar modules in the U.S. are foreign-owned companies—two are Korean and one is Chinese. And, because of this Chinese dominance in the solar industry, a good amount of U.S. taxpayers’ dollars in the form of tax credits for the solar industry, end up in the hands of the Chinese. That’s right, the Chinese government reaps the benefits of those feel-good tax credits the green-at-any-cost crowds says you’ll get if you cover your roof in solar panels!
And, that’s why it’s so crucial to step back from the rhetoric and look at what it going on behind all the feel-good slogans. Follow the money and you often find the truth. We already know that solar energy is an inefficient, ineffective, and expensive technology compared to American natural gas for electricity generation. And, that natural gas is necessary to back up solar power generation because of its unreliability. But, the deeper truth here is that we are seeing firsthand how dangerous it is to put our energy needs in the hands of untrustworthy foreign governments who have adversarial or worse intentions for the U.S. and the Western world. We cannot repeat our mistakes by putting our American energy needs and rights in the hands of China.
As the Coalition for a Prosperous America puts it: “China continues to raise the stakes with large subsidies supporting billions of dollars of Chinese solar industry expansion. Beijing’s goal is global dominance of this industry.”