As nations throughout the world work to decrease their carbon footprint and transition to renewable energy, solar panel production has increased significantly in recent years. China is one of the major players in the solar panel business thanks to its extensive production and inexpensive prices. Yet, the U.S. is making efforts to catch up and reclaim its position as a global leader in the manufacture of solar panels.
Dominance in solar panel production
China controls 80% of the global solar panel market and is now able to sell solar panels for far less than businesses in other nations. However, there has been increasing concern about China’s use of forced labor, particularly of the Uyghur population, in the production of their solar panels.
While it’s not clear how many solar panels produced in China use forced labor, given the scale of the industry and the reports of human rights abuses in the region, there have been calls for the solar industry to ensure that their supply chains are free from forced labor and other human rights abuses.
U.S. attempts to corner the solar supply chain
The United States is gradually catching up to China’s solar industry thanks to rules and incentives put in place to encourage domestic production and consumer uptake. For example, the US Bipartisan Infrastructure Bill (BIL) has set aside money for the procurement of raw materials, manufacturing, and utility-level adoption.
Additionally, American businesses are funding emerging technologies that might transform the manufacturing of solar panels so it no longer needs to rely on China for raw materials, such as polysilicon. Thin-film solar panels, for instance, which are being tested by some businesses and could bring down the price of solar panels and increase consumer access to them.
In 2021, the United States installed over 20 gigawatts of solar capacity (bringing the total installed capacity to 142.3 gigawatts), which accounted for 50% of new electricity.