More than solar

By Julian Spector, Greentech Media

Those who track the shifting acronyms of energy industry groups, take note: The California Solar Energy Industries Association has changed. It's now the California Solar and Storage Association. CALSEIA is out, CALSSA is in.

That loss of a single syllable says something about the increasing presence of energy storage within California's solar industry. This is one of the few places in the U.S. where residential storage has started to gain traction, thanks to high electricity prices and that friendly Self-Generation Incentive Program.

The state is home to Tesla, Sunrun, Sonnen and pretty much everyone else working to popularize residential storage. And it has pioneered large-scale storage, which will become even more valuable as solar penetration increases and curtailment rates rise. The old silos of solar and storage no longer make much sense here.


Trump tariffs bump up costs for California businesses

By David R. Baker, San Francisco Chronicle

Most of the aluminum Claudia Wentworth’s company uses to make rooftop solar panel racks in Walnut Creek comes from the United States.

It is precisely the kind of American product that President Trump’s new tariffs on imported aluminum and steel are designed to protect.

But while the tariffs, imposed by orders that Trump signed Thursday, may benefit domestic metal producers, they will raise costs for Wentworth’s company, Quick Mount PV. Aluminum prices, she said, are already rising.

“I’m sure it’s a cost that will have to get passed on to customers, because within the solar industry, our margins have already been squeezed,” said Wentworth, whose business employs about 85 people. The solar industry, she noted, is already grappling with a 30 percent tariff Trump slapped on imported panels in January.

“It’s a double whammy,” Wentworth said. “What I need to do is run a company that can remain healthy, and this does not help at all.”

Trump’s new tariffs, adopted over the objections of many in his own party, are intended to protect American workers. But businesses that make products out of aluminum or steel will now face climbing costs, as the tariffs push up the price of imports and domestic producers — partially shielded from foreign competition — raise their prices as well.

The same dynamic will play out in companies as small as Quick Mount and as large as Tesla, which uses both steel and aluminum in the electric cars it builds in Fremont.

“Like all automakers, Tesla will be affected,” said Michelle Krebs, executive analyst at Autotrader. “And we may see car prices rise as automakers and their suppliers pass along the cost increases to car buyers.”

Tesla declined to comment on the tariffs. CEO Elon Musk, however, took to Twitter Thursday urging Trump to look at China’s import duties on American cars, as well as other rules Musk said unfairly hinder U.S. automakers trying to operate there.

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“I am against import duties in general, but the current rules make things very difficult,” Musk tweeted. “It’s like competing in an Olympic race wearing lead shoes.”

California depends more than many states on international trade. Sen. Dianne Feinstein, in a statement Thursday criticizing the tariffs, said almost 25 percent of the country’s steel and aluminum imports come through California ports, trade activity worth more than $4 billion.

And yet, the overall effect of the tariffs may be limited — assuming they don’t lead to an all-out trade war.

“It’s a bad thing, but not a hugely bad thing, if it stops here,” said Andrew Rose, a professor of international business at UC Berkeley. Much of California’s international trade, he said, involves business services and intellectual property — “the stuff coming out of Hollywood or Silicon Valley, and that won’t be affected by this.”

The danger, however, is that tariffs will trigger an escalating series of disputes among the United States and its trade partners, leading to more extreme measures.

“Say Trump says, ‘Screw you, we’re pulling out of NAFTA,’” Rose said. “That would disrupt a lot of supply chains. And when you undo supply chains, a lot of people lose their jobs.”

NexTracker, a Fremont company that makes tracking mechanisms and ground mounts for large-scale solar projects, manufactures both in the United States and abroad and obtains its steel from multiple countries. Although it’s still unclear which countries will be subject to the tariffs, CEO Dan Shugar expects steel costs to rise across the board. He still doesn’t know if NexTracker will try to pass those costs on to customers. The threat of tariffs has already brought more uncertainty to the market for large-scale solar projects.

“It’s protectionism that increases costs for everyone, benefiting a limited number of producers,” Shugar said.


Trump's solar tariff darkens outlook for installers

By James Rainey, NBC News

President Donald Trump’s foray into trade protectionism heartened a handful of manufacturers in a deeply challenged industry but upset a much larger group of thriving downstream businesses that say they will lose sales and shed employees during what should be a boom time. 

The steel and aluminum business? No, that's the response to Trump’s first major tariff — the one he imposed in late January on solar cells and panels made overseas. Companies that have been thriving installing rooftop solar panels say the 30 percent levy on imports has dealt their businesses a heavy blow. 

The tariff may help a handful of surviving U.S. companies that make photovoltaic cells and the panels made of the cells, allowing them to compete with much cheaper imports from China and elsewhere. In one twist on the Trump policy, though, the American subsidiary of a Chinese solar giant may be one of the first clear beneficiaries of the policy.

Companies that use the solar cells and panels for residential and business installations say that although the tariff took effect just last month, the higher costs have already forced them to scale back. Some projects have been put on the back burner. Workers have been laid off. And the prospects are murky for later this year, when inventories of cheap, foreign-made solar cells and panels dry up. 

The sun power industry has estimated that the increased costs could cost 23,000 jobs, while predicting that a “negligible” number of jobs will be added by American companies that build photovoltaic cells and panels. 

Trump’s approval of a 25 percent charge on steel imports and a 10 percent charge on aluminum imports on Thursday caused some in the solar industry to renew their objections to the earlier solar tariff. Abigail Ross Hopper, CEO of the Solar Energy Industries Association, reiterated this week "that the net loss of jobs and the cancellation of projects as a result of his solar tariffs are real and causing damage to America's energy economy." 

Several companies that build solar installations confirmed that assertion. 

“We haven’t been able to grow at the pace we otherwise would have,” said Jonathan Port, CEO of PermaCity, a Los Angeles-based firm that has installed some of the largest commercial rooftop projects in the country. “We’ve had projects delayed, some because we can’t get the supply [of solar panels] and some of them because the economics don’t make sense because of the increased cost.”

Grid Alternatives, a nonprofit organization that brings sun power to low-income communities, said that in anticipation of higher costs, it shut down operations in the New York-New Jersey-Connecticut area, laying off 24 people. The organization not only brings clean power to economically disadvantaged areas, it also trains workers from those neighborhoods for solar jobs. 

“It throws a wrench into plans that we had and into an industry that is really trying to address climate change,” said Michael Kadish, executive director of Grid Alternatives in greater Los Angeles. “If we are trying to shift to more clean energy, we just made it harder to do that with this tariff.” 

Trump’s foray into trade protectionism has disturbed even some within his own party. His chief economic adviser, Gary Cohn, resigned this week after Trump announced the steel and aluminum levies. Conservative groups like the Heritage Foundation and the American Legislative Exchange Council earlier spoke out against the solar tariffs. 

California companies said the tariffs come on top of reduced government rebates for solar in the state, which means it takes consumers longer to recoup the cost of installations. “We had a steadily lowering cost of solar, and to reverse that is absolutely the wrong direction to go,” said Bernadette Del Chiaro, executive director of the California Solar and Storage Association. 

Del Chiaro said the federal tariffs would add $600 to $700 to the cost of the average home solar system. That might dissuade some investors, but will amount to only a temporary setback. “It’s not going to knock the legs out from under the solar industry,” Del Chiaro said. “We will adjust. We will move on.” 

The charges Trump imposed fell short of the 50 percent tariff two U.S. manufacturers had requested. For U.S.-based cell and panel makers, “the tariff is not going to be enough to make them price- competitive,” predicted Kadish. “This is more a talking point than an effective economic reality.”

But representatives of America’s struggling solar manufacturers cheered Trump for striking back against foreign interests. They said the competitors, particularly the Chinese, have stolen American technology and then cornered the market by using their government subsidies to lower their prices to predatory levels. 

“It’s important to put our foot down, and this is the place to do it,” said Greg Autry, assistant professor of clinical entrepreneurship at the University of Southern California's Lloyd Greif Center for Entrepreneurial Studies. “We can’t let our technology just be transferred to other countries and used to undercut our own industries. That is just not a sustainable model for our country.” Autry called it “obscene” for U.S. installers to object to the Trump tariff and assuming that they should benefit from cheap technology pilfered from the U.S. 

About 30 U.S. solar cell and panel makers were driven out of business by cheap foreign imports, said one of the surviving manufacturers, SolarWorld Americas. SolarWorld’s plant in Hillsboro, Oregon, employed 1,300 people before its German parent company went bankrupt in 2017. It’s now at less than 400 workers but is “ramping up” hiring, following the imposition of the tariff, said Tim Brightbill, a lawyer who represents the company. The firm’s goal is to double production to 184 million solar cells a year and almost four million 3-by-5-foot solar panels. 

A second U.S. manufacturer, Suniva, also fell into bankruptcy and its future remains unclear. Representatives could not be reached for comment.

Industry publications have named another firm poised to take advantage of the increased cost of imports: JinkoSolar. The company has said it plans to build a factory in Jacksonville, Florida, to make solar cells and panels. About 200 jobs are promised. The parent company, one of the world's biggest solar manufacturers, is based in China.


CALSEIA rebrands as California Solar and Storage Association

America’s second largest solar association says it’s adapting to the changing market to serve both solar – and storage – members of its ever-growing state industry.

By Frank Andorka, PV Magazine

 Seeing the direction the industry is moving, Bernadette Del Chiaro will now lead the California Solar and Storage Association, replacing CALSEIA with a new name and focus.

Seeing the direction the industry is moving, Bernadette Del Chiaro will now lead the California Solar and Storage Association, replacing CALSEIA with a new name and focus.

For more than 40 years, the California Solar Energy Industries Association (CALSEIA) has set high standards for service to its members, becoming the second-largest solar association in the country through its innovative and forward-thinking initiatives.

And starting today, its latest innovation could have far-reaching effects for the way others in the country think about the solar industry – or, rather, the solar and storage industry.

CALSEIA has announced it is changing its name, starting today, to the California Solar and Storage Association (CALSSA), a move that recognizes solar’s central role in the future of the U.S. electricity generation mix while acknowledging its next evolution is inextricably intertwined with the increased use of energy storage.

Though during its early years CALSEIA was a formally affiliated state-level chapter of the national Solar Energy Industries Association, the organization has largely charted its own course 2011.

Bernadette Del Chiaro, executive director of the newly-renamed CALSSA, says the organization, despite their increasingly diverging missions, will continue to work with the national association on state issues.

“We’ve always been our own organization, with our own membership and our own board,” Del Chiaro said. “We’ve always been a willing partner to help our allies in Washington D.C., and we hope the relationship with the national organization will only be strengthened by clarifying whose role is what.”