To escape China’s supply chain, embrace a diverse clean energy portfolio
COVID-19 and the ongoing crisis in Ukraine have demonstrated the fragility of global supply chains. While America’s industrial base has shown strong resilience, a more enduring threat to our clean energy supply chains continues to grow: dependence on materials and manufacturing controlled by the Chinese government.
On June 6, the Biden administration invoked the Defense Production Act to accelerate the domestic manufacturing of solar panels and other technologies for which America is import-reliant. This builds on the administration’s goal, announced last year, for solar to supply 40 percent of U.S. electricity by 2035, up from 4 percent today.
While solar power certainly has a role to play, the U.S. should avoid overreliance on any one form of energy and instead embrace a diverse portfolio of affordable, reliable and clean energy technologies.
Conservative policymakers are advancing a comprehensive strategy to support a broad range of domestic energy sources. Last week, U.S. House GOP leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.), GOP Conference Chairwoman Elise Stefanik (R-N.Y.), House Select Committee on Climate GOP leader Garret Graves (R-La.), and others from their Energy, Climate and Conservation (ECC) Task Force rolled out part one of a six-part plan to tackle the ongoing energy crisis and the global climate challenge.
The GOP task force pillars include policies to unlock America’s abundant energy resources, promote technological innovation and empower American entrepreneurs to build with a modernized permitting process — all of which are necessary to defeat China and Russia and restore U.S. energy dominance.
As the task force recognizes, America’s overreliance on supply chains controlled by foreign adversaries threatens our energy security. For example, the Chinese government controls key parts of the solar supply chain, from polysilicon production to wafer manufacturing to module assembly — the crucial steps for manufacturing solar panels.
Two-thirds of the world’s polysilicon production capacity is owned by Chinese firms, more than 90 percent of global wafer manufacturing capacity is located in China, and Chinese companies control 72 percent of global module manufacturing capacity, according to a recent report from the Center for Strategic and International Studies.
It wasn’t always this way. In years past, the U.S. boasted considerable solar manufacturing capacity and global supply chains were more secure. In 1995, the U.S. owned more than 40 percent of global solar module manufacturing capacity, while China had essentially none. In the ensuing years, America’s market share steadily eroded, with China’s module capacity surpassing America’s around 2005. The gap has grown relentlessly ever since.
The era of solar expansion has coincided with China’s rising manufacturing dominance. China’s human rights record makes matters even worse. Half of the world’s polysilicon comes from Xinjiang, a region of China that has been linked to forced labor and genocide against 1 million Uyghurs, a Muslim minority group. In response, the White House in June issued a ban on polysilicon imports from Xinjiang.
Even with measures to limit Xinjiang polysilicon, China still controls the upstream solar supply chain. Moreover, the Chinese regime is adept at shifting production to other countries, which hampers traceability.
Instead of setting goals that increase reliance on Chinese supply chains, the long-term solution is to diversify America’s supply chains. As the GOP task force explains, supply chain resilience involves unleashing all of America’s abundant energy resources — including a broader range of renewables, such as hydropower and geothermal, as well as other clean energy technologies, such as nuclear, natural gas and carbon capture.
We must also fix America’s broken federal permitting process, which makes it more difficult to build clean energy faster — and more likely that new technologies will be manufactured overseas by foreign adversaries who don’t uphold our environmental standards, which will result in higher emissions than if the same manufacturing occurred in the U.S.
Congress and the Biden administration should embrace all forms of energy that can contribute to a resilient, secure and clean energy system. With smart solutions focused on building and exporting a diverse suite of technologies, the next decade of clean energy expansion can be America’s to seize.
Alex Fitzsimmons is a senior program director at ClearPath, non-profit working to accelerate conservative solutions to climate change. He previously served as deputy assistant secretary for energy efficiency at the U.S. Department of Energy during the Trump administration.
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