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Biden's solar manufacturing goal: a big reach

Alan Neuhauser
Jun 6, 2022
Illustration of a solar panel with shapes and zoomed in sections of dollar bills.
Illustration: Gabriella Turrisi/Axios

The Biden administration also said it will invoke the Defense Production Act to triple U.S. domestic solar manufacturing capacity.

Why it's important: It’s a move that may spur more financing and investment across the space, and yet the goal is vaguer than it seems — one where it will be easy to claim victory, but more difficult to achieve significant impact.

Catch up fast: The White House hopes to foster 22.5 gigawatts (GW) of solar manufacturing capacity by the end of President Biden's first term, in 2024.

Yes, but: It will be easier for the Biden administration to claim victory.

  • Solar "manufacturing" is a vague term that could include the final stages of the supply chain that are arguably least impactful.
  • "Assembling the modules, you can do that pretty easily. Further upstream, that gets harder," Ethan Zindler, an analyst with BNEF, tells Axios.

Meanwhile: Achieving more substantive manufacturing goals is a major challenge, especially within the administration's timeline — and as solar demand continues to surge.

  • "Two years is extremely aggressive," an industry consultant tells Axios.
  • "It takes time to get domestic manufacturing off the ground — I don’t know if that’s enough to do everything the industry needs, especially as solar deployment grows," the consultant says.

Moreover: Expanding manufacturing still doesn't address continued U.S. reliance on raw materials and refining from China.

  • "Most American manufacturers who call themselves American manufacturers are still getting their cells from China. That investment needs to be made in the core pieces of the module," Erica Brinker, chief commercial officer of module-maker Array Technologies, tells Axios.

The bottom line: "What’s necessary is to move the entire supply chain back to the United States — that involves mining, processing of aluminum, silicon, glass, manufacturing the panels, and redundancy," John Dowd, CEO of GoGreen Investments, tells Axios.

  • "That’s a multi-year process involving billions and billions and billions of dollars and regulation."
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