President Obama has many times insisted that we need to relentlessly continue making the renewable-energy “investments” that will help the United States create “green jobs” and give us a competitive edge against countries like China and help us “win the future” — but whatever miraculous future he’s referring to is unclear, since China’s policies are so often an example of precisely what not to do. China’s solar-panel industry is a hot mess of overcapacity right now, with too many firms and way too many panels thanks to their many wildly generous subsidy programs.
The resulting flood of solar panels on the global market means plummeting prices, which in turns means that solar panel companies are losing money and are looking for ways to pinch their pennies. Hence, even some of the biggest solar companies in the world are using cheaper, even untested substitute materials in their manufacturing, causing an emerging and alarming problem of quality control, via the NYT:
The solar panels covering a vast warehouse roof in the sun-soaked Inland Empire region east of Los Angeles were only two years into their expected 25-year life span when they began to fail.
Coatings that protect the panels disintegrated while other defects caused two fires that took the system offline for two years, costing hundreds of thousands of dollars in lost revenues.
It was not an isolated incident. Worldwide, testing labs, developers, financiers and insurers are reporting similar problems and say the $77 billion solar industry is facing a quality crisis just as solar panels are on the verge of widespread adoption. …
The quality concerns have emerged just after a surge in solar construction. In the United States, the Solar Energy Industries Association said that solar panel generating capacity exploded from 83 megawatts in 2003 to 7,266 megawatts in 2012, enough to power more than 1.2 million homes. Nearly half that capacity was installed in 2012 alone, meaning any significant problems may not become apparent for years. …
Read: The Obama administration and states like California have just spent a bunch of taxpayer money on incentivizing people to build solar installations, and now it sounds like a lot of these solar panels are of ruinously questionable quality. Great.
As I’ve said many times before, I have zero problems with the idea of solar energy in and of itself. The only problem here is governments that relentlessly subsidize the bejeesus out of their politically-favored pet projects, recklessly “investing” with money that isn’t theirs so they can win votes by pointing to all of the vague ways in which they’re “doing something” about climate change.
It isn’t because solar might not have a legitimate, affordable, and helpful place in our energy scheme — but as long as we keep throwing artificial top-down faux-market signals into the mix, we’ll never really be able to know. All of this subsidizing and cashing out and cronyism is nothing short of an egregious disservice to the renewable energy industries that eco-radicals claim to love so much, because in the long run it discourages price efficiency and competitiveness. If green progressives want these fledgling technologies to succeed, they need to push them out of the nest and see if they can fly on their own.