In the spirit of jaw-dropping surprises, we thought we’d begin our weekly news digest by ignoring the biggest story the world has ever known and heading straight on to… wait. Hold on. There really isn’t that much else to write about without acknowledging the massive GOP elephant in the room.
So acknowledge it we must. You may have heard that the U.S. elected a new president this week. And you may also be aware that the new president is none other than businessman, reality TV star and jobbing walk-on movie extra Donald J. Trump.
If this comes as news to you, then be prepared to share that rock under which you’ve been hiding, because the tumult is only just beginning.
After the initial surprise had begun to die down, some of the solar industry’s more sober heads made their voices heard. And amid the doom mongering came a healthy waft of – if not optimism – then at least patient caution as to what a Trump presidency could mean for PV and the wider clean energy sector.
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 this week 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 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.
Back in the U.S., Christopher Mansour, vice president of federal affairs for Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA) said in an interview with pv magazine that they had maintained a dialogue with the Trump campaign team to ensure awareness of solar’s benefits were high on the agenda.
"I think that they have a good understanding of where we are with the solar industry in terms of where it is right now. It’s a question of seeing what kinds of policies they want to pursue down the line here," Mansour said. He also added that he does not believe the chances are high that the ITC will be repealed, but stressed that this has more to do with a reluctance to “change the rules mid-stream” than any desire to see solar soar.
China lowers its sights
Trump in the White House brings uncertainty, and the solar industry does not like uncertainty. Handily, the industry has China at the helm – a nation that definitely does not deal in uncertainty. This week it was confirmed that the National Energy Administration (NEA) has cut its solar PV installation target for 2020 by 20%, falling from 150 GW to 110 GW.
The very clear cut message being: we are lowering our solar sights. 110 GW is still a large figure, and may turn out to be a minimum target, but the lowering of Chinese ambitions marks something of a u-turn on previous rhetoric, and was obviously met with a certain amount of trepidation by the industry.
Over to you, storage
Solar’s savior was never going to be found running for the White House, nor is its future dependent on the decisions made upon high in Shanghai. Nope, solar will thrive despite political machinations, not because of them: technology always improves, and solar is no exception.
Enter stage right: storage. Battery technology has long been the awkward younger brother of solar, but now the sector is finally coming to the end of its ungainly teenage years and is starting to resemble something rather mature and well-rounded.
This was evident this week following the announcement that Mercedes-Benz Energy Americas had entered into the wide-open U.S. EV+storage market, committing around €1 billion towards the mass development of a lithium-ion battery line in California.
Within that investment, the company will spend €500 million on a second battery factory at the Accumotive site in Kamenz, Saxony, online in 2018. Accumotive has been producing EV batteries since 2009.
In a company statement, Marc Thomas, CEO of Mercedes-Benz Energy GmbH, in Germany, said, "By founding Mercedes-Benz Energy Americas, we are once again underscoring our ambition to be a technological and market leader in the field of highly efficient storage systems on a global scale."
An independent residential storage product based on these batteries will be available early in 2017 in a range from 2.5 kWh to 20 kWh and include a 10-year warranty. A larger range commercial & industrial line is expected to follow.
There was more storage positivity emerging from Germany, where inverter specialist SMA announced a tie-up with South Korea’s LG on the creation of a battery inverter solution for the home.
The product, which combines a Sunny Boy storage 2.5 battery inverter and LG Chem’s RESU storage units, will be first introduced into Europe and Australia, and will be available at 7kWh and 10kWh storage capacity. It can be retrofitted to existing residential PV systems, and low-voltage variants of the LG Chem RESU storage unit can also be selected should customers require such a solution.
And in other news…
A flood of third quarter financials hit this week too, with SolarCity, SMA, SolarEdge, SunPower and Sunrun all posting relatively good figures, while in Germany the researchers at Fraunhofer ISE announced that they had achieved 30.2% efficiency on a silicon multi-junction solar cell.
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