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The target: 100 gigawatts of U.S. renewables manufacturing capacity by 2030

By John Smirnow

You've probably heard the arguments why U.S. solar manufacturing can't compete. Our labor costs are too high. It's all automated so there aren't that many jobs anyway. And it's too late—we can't catch up with other countries.

But what about the fact that there are already tens of thousands of Americans employed in renewable energy manufacturing? That manufacturing has the highest jobs multiplier of any industry? Or that the U.S. has some of the best research laboratories in the world?

It's time to invest in the promise of American renewable energy manufacturing.

In September, the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA) set a target of 100 gigawatts (GW) of domestic renewable energy manufacturing capacity by 2030, with a particular focus on solar, wind, and energy storage technologies. Right now, we are about a quarter of the way there.

This goal is consistent with our aspirations of having solar energy account for 20 percent of all electricity generation by 2030. And it fits with a collective goal by the renewable energy industries—wind, solar, and hydropower with storage—to hit 50 percent of all electricity by the end of the decade.

The 100 GW target is designed to increase the United States' ability to supply not only domestic renewable energy projects but also export markets. The target also recognizes the benefits of an integrated global supply chain and an important role for imports. It is not intended to isolate U.S. renewable energy industries from the rest of the world, and we continue to recognize that tariffs are ineffective at incentivizing domestic manufacturing.

But we also know that renewable energy manufacturing is an intensely competitive sector, and that overseas manufacturers are often supported by generous tax incentives and access to low-cost capital. To compete in this environment, it's essential that the U.S. government likewise commit to investing in its manufacturers.

Federal investments must focus, first and foremost,
on leveraging private sector commitments. These investments must also be long-term in nature-in this case, over the course of a decade. In addition, renewable energy manufacturing investments must include both supply and demand incentives. As we have seen, one without the other cannot sustain a strong U.S. manufacturing base in the face of intense global competition.

What is required is a comprehensive package of state and federal investments including, for example, research and development support, low-cost loans, and manufacturing tax credits. It is also possible that different segments of the industry will require unique investment solutions rather than a one-size-fits-all approach.

SEIA recognizes both the necessity of growing domestic renewable energy manufacturing and the immense challenge of the task at hand, and we're committed to making a difference.

To help further this conversation, we've presented the Solar+ Decade & American Renewable Energy Manufacturing: 100 GW by 2030. This report makes clear that we can support a growing solar economy to the benefit of all sectors if we are smart about how we do it.

The report outlines that to reach this target, the massive growth the solar industry realized over the last decade will need to continue for the next decade. We will need to grow our industry an average rate of 18 percent annually and install more than 500 gigawatts of solar projects by the end of 2030, including approximately 77 GW in 2030 alone.

Achieving this goal will result in hundreds of thousands of new U.S. jobs, more than 14 million solar rooftops, and 500 million metric tons of avoided CO2 emissions.

And although our industry has been slowed by the global pandemic, we still expect to meet the 20 percent by 2030 target.

To date, however, while the broader U.S. solar industry has and will continue to flourish, U.S. solar manufacturing has languished. It is time to seize the promise of American solar manufacturing. Consistent with the Solar+ Decade Roadmap's focus on aggressive collaboration, we must also ensure that the United States becomes a world leader in not only solar equipment but all renewable energy technologies.

John Smirnow is SEIA's General Counsel & Vice President of Market Strategy. He has been a solar industry advocate for more than 10 years, including service as SEIA's Vice President for Trade & Competitiveness, Chairman of the U.S. Department of Commerce Renewable Energy and Energy Efficiency Advisory Committee, and Member of the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative Trade and Environment Policy Advisory Committee.