US election: solar, renewable and climate advocates cool on Trump win

The confirmation this morning that Donald Trump has become the 45th President of the U.S. sent a seismic jolt through leading liberal channels, with shock and disbelief the overriding reaction.

If June’s Brexit decision could politely be described as a surprise, today’s victory for Trump was met with a stultifying daze as Europe awoke to the news that many around the world had feared.

And while opposition to his ascension to the presidency was vocal among climate advocates and environmentalists, a smattering of those operating in the global solar industry responded in a more soberly and dispassionate fashion.

Bloomberg New Energy Finance’s (BNEF) head of solar Jenny Chase told pv magazine that, from a global perspective, the U.S. just is not that important to many international solar companies any more, and with solar’s costs continuing to fall, "even Trump voters can see the benefits [of PV]".

"It is possible that this election will lead to more trade barriers against Asian solar companies, or tightening of the current trade barriers to exclude modules made in factories set up in south-east Asia to dodge them," said Chase. "That assumes a coherence to the narrative that we have not yet seen from Trump. And trade law is really boring, so he might leave it alone."

Chase also suggested that while Trump is likely to be unhelpful for the climate in general, his tenure may not specifically be bad for U.S. solar installations.

"There is a chance that with the backing of the now Republican House and Senate, Trump will cancel the federal Investment Tax Credit, but that would not be the end of the solar industry in the U.S.

"Cutting the corporate tax rate might reduce tax equity available for investment, but the industry has always survived that before," Chase stressed.

"The patchwork of net metering incentives, state by state, is in flux, but solar often has bipartisan support at the state level." Chase pointed to the decision last night that saw Florida vote No to Amendment 1 as evidence that support for solar remains strong in many states – even Republican ones – across the country.

The view from Europe

European solar body SolarPower Europe was quick to largely echo this sentiment, with CEO James Watson telling pv magazine that while Trump is certainly no big believer in climate change, the hope is that "he will recognize the value in solar in terms of employment and the economy and keep the ITC in place".

"For the rest of the world," Watson added, "we need to keep our focus on delivering on a low carbon economy. In terms of protectionism, he has promised tough measures on China. They already exist on solar panels and so I expect he will maintain them. I doubt this will impact any decision in the EU."

The U.K.’s Solar Trade Association (STA) cautiously told pv magazine that it is probably too early to judge just what kind of impact Trump’s election victory may have on solar specifically, but was equally concerned about his apparent distrust of the effects of climate change.

"In his 100 day plan Trump said that he would rip up the Paris Agreement and stop sending money to UN climate change programs," said the STA’s external affairs spokesman Oliver Savory. "If he did this it would be a huge setback for the growing consensus on tackling climate change, and we would worry that there could be a reversal of the gains renewable energy has made globally."

Savory added that should the U.S. fail to meet its climate change obligations, then there is a big risk that China and other large polluting nations could abandon their targets too.

Milan Nitzschke of lobby group EU ProSun sounded confident that Trump would not ignore the fact that a "safe and cost-efficient U.S. electricity supply" requires a significant base share of solar. "It is a simple economic insight and matches with Americans’ strong desire for independence,” Nitzschke told pv magazine. "Therefore, the U.S. PV market can be expected to continue to grow during the next few years."

Climate of fear

An early post-result analysis by S&P Global Market Intelligence projected that should Trump indeed cut the ITC to 10% from the current 30% then solar installation demand in the U.S. could fall by as much as 60%.

Trump’s comments on climate change have been worrying, with many environmental advocates aghast that he has won. The executive director of the New York-based international environmental organization 350.org May Boeve called his victory a disaster, but urged even greater efforts in the international climate process.

"We’re not giving up the fight and neither should the international community," said Boeve. "Trump will try and slam the brakes on climate action, which means we need to throw all of our weight on the accelerator. In the U.S, the climate movement will put everything on the line to protect the progress we’ve made and continue to push for bold action. We need the rest of the world to charge ahead and look beyond the White House to partner with civil society, businesses, and local governments who are still committed to climate action. Our work becomes much harder now, but it’s not impossible, and we refuse to give up hope.

"350.org will continue to work in the U.S. and around the world for the bold climate action that science and justice demand."

Chase remarked that the election of Trump could be seen as "an assault on the rule of reason", while Nitzschke added: "This result shows dramatically that a lot of people in a complicated world are more than willing to follow radical taglines – and this is also true for large parts of Europe: anything that sounds as business as usual is being rejected. It is more urgent than ever for politicians to take that seriously in order to promote progressive change."