2024 Was Supposed To Be Solar’s Big Comeback Year. Instead, the Industry Is Cloudier Than Ever. – The Average Joe
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    2024 Was Supposed To Be Solar’s Big Comeback Year. Instead, the Industry Is Cloudier Than Ever.

    Noah Weidner

    April 16, 2024

    The solar industry is stuck in the Three-Body Problem, with issues like higher interest rates, declining feed-in tariffs, and backlash against Environmental, Social, and Governance (ESG) constantly tearing it apart. After a rough two years, renewable energy analysts were banking on the hope that 2024 would bring much-needed sunshine to the fast-growing solar business — but instead of supercharging the sector, the sector finds itself under darker clouds.

    No sunlight: By 2043, over half of US energy could come from solar — but that power won’t be generated on Americans’ rooftops. A Solar Energy Industries Association forecast shows a 13% drop in solar installations by US homeowners this year, pushing over a hundred solar contractors out of business. Two factors are to blame…

    • Higher interest rates: Similar to the impact on EVs, rising rates affect more than 90% of residential solar sales financed through loans or leases.
    • Reduced returns: Utility firms in California (which represents 37% of the residential solar market) have cut compensation for surplus energy sent back to the grid by 75% — with other states likely to follow suit (WSJ).

    China looms

    The Invesco Solar ETF ($TAN), reflecting the solar industry, has halved in value over the past year. Recovery for domestic solar panel producers like SolarEdge ($SEDG) and First Solar ($FSLR) may not happen until 2025 as they grapple with competition from cheaper, entrenched Chinese counterparts.

    • China produced 91% of polysilicon solar panels in 2022 — the most popular and highest-quality variety, representing three-quarters of US installations.
    • Making matters worse, China can manufacture these panels at a 44% lower cost than US-based companies.

    On the bright side… After a record year for small-scale solar installations in 2023, solar is still the preferred source for new energy production among power utilities. This year, US power producers will install 63 gigawatts of new electricity generation — with solar contributing 60% and battery storage 23%. But even that won’t help the industry bounce back… unless the Fed wants to chime in.

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