Let Confusion Reign: How President Trump and China Could Impact the Solar Industry

Ever since the election of President Donald Trump, the world has been assessing every statement and tweet to weigh the potential policies that will come from this new administration. Climate scientists and renewable energy industry leaders are worried — as are many others, especially about the impact human activities have on our climate.

Trumps statements on climate change, renewables and China deserve scrutiny. Honeymoon periods don’t last long, especially against a backdrop of global protests and White House staff infighting. With President Trump’s trigger-happy inclination to sign an executive order first and ask questions later, we can’t afford to ignore policies that could impact hundreds of thousands of jobs in the solar industry.

Could President Trump Derail Solar Industry Growth?

The economic and environmental benefits of renewable energy for the US are hard to deny. The cost of solar installation is plummeting, with an extra 4.1 gigawatts of solar going online in the third quarter of 2016, up 191 percent from the same period in 2015. More than 25 states incorporate renewable power in their energy mix, with California leading the way as it aims to pull 50 percent of its energy from renewable sources by 2030.

Trumps track record on environmental issues may put the brakes on this economic growth in the solar sector. For example, Trump’s skepticism about climate change (calling it a “Chinese hoax“) and his wish to “cancel” the 2015 Paris Agreement could signal danger for solar-friendly policies.

Of immediate concern are two federal subsidies — the Investment Tax Credit (ITC) and Production Tax Credit (PTC) — that make solar and wind more affordable and more attractive as investment opportunities. Renewable tax credits receive significant bipartisan support in Congress, particularly from states where the 30 percent ITC tax rebate sparks job growth and capital investment.

The federal subsidies were renewed for five years in 2015 and, so far, the administration has not given a clear indication if it will repeal. However, it is also looking to cut $100 billion of Obama-era climate spending, which could include these tax credits.

Trump ran on a platform of job creation and growth, but his leanings could have the opposite effect. Cutting tax credits will slow growth and investment, harming jobs and economic growth across the country.

Can Trumps China Policy Impact the Solar Industry?

Adding to concerns over the future of solar is Trump’s shaky relationship with foreign nations — especially China. To run a foreign policy, a president needs nuance, diplomatic skills and patience. Trumps lack of experience and quick Twitter fingers have sent shockwaves of uncertainty amongst world leaders.

China is about to invest around $360 billion (2.5 trillion yuan) in renewables — solar, wind, biomass, hydroelectric and geothermal — creating 13 million jobs by 2020. Clearly, China is doubling down on reversing the human impact of climate change.

Although Chinas gains do not harm the US solar industry directly, if the US starts putting up trade walls and tariffs while reducing renewable tax credits and R&D funding, it is not hard to imagine a scenario where investors and energy companies shift focus away from the United States. In turn, talent, innovation and money could flow to China and Europe, making the US more reliant on fossil fuels in the near future.

For right now, the most effective route solar supporters can take is to keep taking action. Stay informed of where your state senators and representatives stand on energy issues, and make sure the public is aware how much energy already comes from solar and other renewable sources. Facts and awareness still matter, especially when our sustainable energy future depends on them.