The Hidden Threat to US Energy Security

(Bloomberg) -- The modern solar cell—the basis for today’s solar panels—was an American invention. Back in 1954, researchers at Bell Laboratories demonstrated the first version of this technology that was efficient enough to be economically viable.

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But 69 years later, the vast majority of solar panels are made in China. In fact, the Asian nation now has enough capacity to manufacture 70 times as many solar panels as the US, according to BloombergNEF. As the world pivots away from fossil fuels and toward renewables, solar has taken on outsize significance, and America’s failure to keep pace with China has become a growing strategic liability.

In the Bloomberg Originals mini-documentary The Hidden Threat to US Energy Security, we explore how America is trying to make up some lost ground in this critical sector, with billions of dollars allocated under President Joe Biden’s Inflation Reduction Act. Also revealed is how China’s dominance of the solar manufacturing industry has given it a leading role in the fight to slow global warming. BloombergNEF estimates that there will be three times as much global solar capacity as onshore and offshore wind combined by 2030.

China’s preeminence is the product of two decades of sustained governmental support that reduced the cost of making solar panels and helped foster end markets. In fact, without Beijing’s push into the space, there’s a good chance solar power would still be a cottage industry, according to BloombergNEF’s lead solar analyst Jenny Chase.

The manufacture and use of solar technology is top of mind this week in New York during Climate Week NYC, the annual gathering of business leaders, scientists and politicians ahead of the year-end United Nations summit on climate change, or COP28. At COP28, participants are to seek a tripling of renewables by the end of the decade—and solar energy is likely to be the biggest single contributor to meeting that goal.

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