Sunday, October 16, 2011
California has 1 in 4 U.S. solar energy jobs
Through the centuries, scientists have found innovative ways to harness the power of the sun — from magnifying glasses to steam engines. Converting more solar power into electricity is high on the political agenda in many countries, amid the push to find domestic energy sources that are less polluting than fossil fuels. Despite rapid growth in recent years, solar power accounts for less than 1 percent of electricity use in the United States. Solar power is more entrenched in European countries like Spain and Germany, which have promoted its development with strong incentives called feed-in tariffs that require electric utilities to buy solar power at a high, fixed price. The United States accounted for $1.6 billion of the world’s $29 billion market for solar panels; California is by far the leading solar state. In the last two years, China has emerged as the dominant player in green energy — especially in solar power. It accounted for at least half the world’s production in 2010, and its market share is rising rapidly. China’s Big Three solar power companies — Suntech Power, Yingli Green Energy and Trina Solar — all announced in August 2011 that their sales in the second quarter were up between 33 and 63 percent from a year earlier. But, analysts say, China has achieved this dominance through lavish government subsidies in its solar industry that are detrimental to American companies and other foreign competitors. While most U.S., Japanese and European companies still have a technological edge, China has a cost advantage, analysts say. Loans at very low rates from state-owned banks in Beijing, cheap or free land from local and provincial governments across China, huge economies of scale and other cost advantages have transformed China from a minor player in the solar power industry into the main producer of an increasingly competitive source of electricity.