This week the UK smashed its previous solar power record, powering nearly a quarter of the nation with solar energy thanks to sunny skies and relatively low demand. At the same time, however, Britain’s biggest solar company, Solarcentury, is anticipating that for the first time the majority of its production won’t be coming from its own country, but from Latin America and the rest of Europe.
In response to dramatic subsidy cuts in the UK, the company invested heavily in outside markets, pouring £3bn into international projects. While 12,000 solar jobs have been lost in Britain since the government cut funding in 2015, Solarcentury has managed to hang on by going international, and now it appears that thanks to this globalized strategy they are beginning not just to survive, but to thrive.
In the last financial year, Solarcentury earned 85 percent of its revenue from production within the UK. This year, the company projects a complete turnaround, with 85 percent of revenue coming from international markets, especially in Europe and Latin America. The shift is an ironic twist as the UK continues to shatter its own solar production records in an industry that has grown from nearly nothing to 2GW of capacity in the last 7 years. In the summer of 2016 solar provided even more power than the UK’s coal-fired stations and in April of 2017 the nation celebrated its first ever full working day without coal. Related: The Big Data Revolution In Oil Is Accelerating
The International Renewable Energy Agency (IREA) recently released a report that shows that solar is expanding rapidly around the world. While jobs in solar have decreased in the UK, Europe, and Japan, the global renewable energy sector grew 1.1 percent between 2015 and 2016, reaching 9.8 million jobs. Of these jobs, solar is by far the largest employer, with 3.1 million jobs, a 12 percent increase since 2015.
The global solar boom is threatening to flood energy industries around the world, not just in Britain. As various markets around the world vie for leadership in soaring solar markets, the U.S. has announced this week that they are considering implementing emergency "safeguard" tariffs on solar imports according to a WTO filing.
As solar production has exploded in the last five years, prices have plummeted and large-scale producers like the U.S., China, and India are battling to dominate the field. The U.S. and India have each filed complaints with the WTO that the other is illegally discriminating against international solar imports, and this week’s announcement of safeguard tariffs is sure to fuel that fire.
While the UK’s own solar industry is struggling due to policy change and budget cuts, British accountancy firm Ernst & Young released a report this month showing that the U.S.' ability to bring in renewable energy investment has been similarly compromised by policy changes under the Trump Administration. A petition filed to the International Trade Commission (ITC) by solar panel manufacturer Suniva, Inc claims that the volume of solar imports in the U.S. rose by 51.6 percent between 2012 and 2016 and the value of imports grew by 62.8 percent, from $5.1 billion to $8.3 billion. Related: Europe Joins Race For Cheaper Batteries With New Gigafactory
As the U.K. and U.S. cut subsidies and backpedal renewable-friendly policies, India has extended their capital subsidies and affordable loans for clean energy. This move is part of a greater effort to support Prime Minister Narendra Modi's goal of raising renewable energy capacity by more than five-fold in the next five years as a part of the nation’s objective to fight climate change. India is currently the world's third biggest greenhouse gas producer, after China and the U.S.
The U.S. and U.K.’s shift away from renewables has left China and India at the forefront of the solar industry, a market that will likely continue to skyrocket in the coming years. According to the International Renewable Energy Agency, solar’s shift to Asia has already begun on a large scale, with 62 percent of global renewable energy jobs located in the continent.
By Haley Zaremba for Oilprice.com
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