Predictions 2018: Looming trade case clouds solar’s future

In less than a month, the course of the solar industry will be decided.

In 2017, much of the industry held its breath as a high-profile — and highly controversial — trade case took place. Two United States-based domestic manufacturers petitioned the U.S. International Trade Commission for relief from imported crystalline silicon photovoltaic equipment under a little-used global safeguard measure.

After months of wrangling, the ITC found cause for injury, punting the final decision to President Donald Trump, an avowed critic of solar.

That, paired with a late tax code overhaul, could bring hefty consequences for solar and even wind. Even so, experts still see cause for optimism as low prices continue to propel solar as the top resource for new installed capacity.

Five experts gave their predictions on what 2018 will bring to the solar industry.

1. Without tariffs, solar will boom — Abby Hopper, President of Solar Energy Industries Association

The U.S. solar industry is coming off its two strongest years ever. Without a doubt, that’s a testament to the tenacity and talent of our 260,000 American solar workers. What lies ahead in 2018, however, is largely dependent on the outcome of a solar trade case now in President Trump’s hands.

By rejecting tariffs in 2018, the president will keep this economic growth engine and it’s 260,000 jobs charging forward. By imposing them, he will line the pockets of foreign investors who made a bad bet.

The President’s choice is stark. With tariffs, tens of thousands of Americans will lose their jobs within months, including veterans, manufacturers and blue-collar workers. Billions of dollars in investment will dry up and America will cede its leadership in energy innovation to foreign countries.

Without tariffs, we are set to continue strong, rapid growth. Our manufacturers across the supply chain will continue to thrive. Solar will provide affordable energy for Americans and it will support national security.

The year 2018 is forecast to again see double-digit gigawatt growth for solar. We hope the president will let the nation’s fastest-growing industry keep creating jobs and fueling the economy and, if he doesn’t, we will forge on in what still offers exciting opportunities for America’s solar energy and economic future

2. Uncertainty up the road, but solar-plus-storage could gain traction in Puerto Rico — Julia Hamm, President of Smart Electric Power Alliance

Unfortunately we head into 2018 with some uncertainty about what the year will hold for solar energy deployment in the United States, largely dependent upon President Trump’s decision in January about tariffs resulting from the Section 201 trade case.

Regardless of that decision, I expect in 2018 there will be an expanded focus by communities and utilities on preparing for a changing climate, more intense weather systems, and cybersecurity threats. Building on the tragic destruction of Puerto Rico’s power system and accompanying humanitarian crisis, the electric power sector will step up its plans to create a more resilient grid.

My recent visit to Puerto Rico—talking with people who deeply understand the unique circumstances on the island—underlined the need for a broad, ambitious but pragmatic vision for rebuilding the island’s power system. I saw so many possibilities for the use of distributed energy resources— including microgrids—to provide solutions to both short-term restoration and long-term system resilience.

I expect we’ll see more deployment of solar in coordination with energy storage to build microgrids at facilities and communities not just in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands, but across the entire country.

3. Solar-plus-storage innovation will be gamechanger for homeowners and the grid in 2018  — Anne Hoskins, Chief Policy Officer for Sunrun

The extreme weather of 2017 issued a clarion call for a more diversified and resilient electricity system. In the wake of Hurricane Maria, first responders couldn’t receive emergency calls, hospitals couldn’t run life-saving equipment, and millions of people were left without power. In Puerto Rico, this nightmare is still the reality for roughly one-third of the island.

In 2018, there is a better way. Consider a system where rooftop solar plus batteries allows people and critical service providers to disconnect from a disabled grid, use the power of the sun on one day, pull energy from their on-site battery and refuel with more sun when it rises again the next morning. 2018 is the dawn of a cleaner, more resilient future. With an estimated 70 percent of energy infrastructure nearing the end of its useful life, rebuilding with the same outdated technology will cost consumers close to $100 billion per year. We can’t afford this outdated way of thinking in 2018, and we don’t need to anymore.

Aggregating rooftop solar plus battery technology to store and dispatch electricity when needed will save all Americans money, and make the grid more durable. I predict that policymakers will seize this solution as they brace for more frequent extreme weather events and work to ensure essential access to affordable and reliable electricity.

4. Market fundamentals favor renewables — Sonia Aggarwal, vice president of Energy Innovation

The economics of electricity generation have flipped from coal to clean, and this trend will reshape America’s utility industry in 2018. Utilities nationwide are choosing to close coal and expand renewable energy because of how much the switch improves their bottom lines and lowers their customers’ bills.

PNM’s 2017-2023 IRP targets zero coal by 2031, Xcel released a plan to make 85 percent of its Minnesota power mix carbon-free by 2030, Ameren is investing $1 billion in renewables to cut emissions 80 percent by 2050, while We Energies will close a 1.2 gigawatt coal plant in 2018 and partially replace it with Wisconsin’s largest solar array.

Dozens of other coal closure announcements happened in 2017 because wind, solar, and storage prices are on a solid downward trend while the costs of other power generation technologies stay flat.

This momentum is promising because the federal government can only do so much tinkering with power markets – when wholesale markets are left alone, like in Texas, renewables beat coal on cost.  Federal efforts may delay coal closure announcements in 2018, but these delays come at the expense of utility customers, and I expect similar utility decisions to continue based on market fundamentals.

5. DER aggregation will rev up — Jon Wellinghoff, former chairman of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission

In 2018, developers will begin to aggregate distributed energy resources (DERs- distributed generation, demand response, storage, control management systems etc.) to provide multiple grid services and collect revenue from multiple value streams.

We are seeing several prospective opportunities in California. East Bay Clean Energy (a community choice aggregation agency in Alameda County) and PG&E announced the West Oakland Clean Energy Project. There aggregated DERs will provide transmission services that would otherwise be provided by a new conventional 230 kV transmission line.

The California PUC announced over 700 MW of DER aggregation opportunity to substitute for three RMR (CASIO Reliability Must Run) power plants the CPUC wants shut down due to expense of keeping those plants operational to meet reliability needs only several hours of the year. Aggregation of DERs can supply that need while also realizing additional revenue opportunities during other hours of the year when the need is not there.

So aggregated DERs will institute a transformation where such resources, both in front of and behind the meter, will provide not only energy, capacity, and ancillary services, but transmission services as well. And get paid for each discreet service offering, making aggregated DERs truly the most cost effective “all purpose tool” on the grid.


Predictions 2018: Looming trade case clouds solar’s future, by Krysti Shallenberger, Utility Drive, January 11, 2018.

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