The Geopolitical Consequences of Poor Solar Power Product Selection

Head Shot image of Daniel Sullivan with Helmet by: Daniel Sullivan

July 26, 2014

I have become increasingly disappointed in some of my colleagues in the solar power design-build industry for their choices related to product selection. In light of recent events in the Middle-East I am even more so (more on that later). However, prior to this year I still held contempt for many integration companies operating in Southern California for their poor choices. In years prior my dismay stemmed from solar integration companies that chose to utilize cheap, low quality Chinese solar panels in order to save a few dollars on their installations (but charge the end customer the same price). 


The practice became widespread when companies like SolarCity and Sunrun started selling leased solar power systems in 2007. Some new entrants to the solar industry, like Vivint, have followed suit. These companies contend that it doesn't matter where the solar panels come from, or the perceived (or actual) quality of the panels, because when leasing solar power systems, the liability for the system performance is on the leaseholder, or the company selling/leasing the system to the end user. So who cares, right? Wrong. 


Why would we as a nation make a collective move towards independence from imported fossil fuels only to become dependent on cheap, low-quality, imported solar panels? Why would be divert money away from countries that supply us our fossil fuels only to send it to our primary national competitors in the global economy? Well, the reason why some companies have done this is simply because they do not care. They do not care where or how the solar panels get in their warehouse just as long as they can charge top dollar for them under convoluted financing arrangements with the customer being none the wiser. These are the types of companies we should avoid doing business with if we have any commitment to maintaining the United States' status as an economic powerhouse.


Now, I wish I could report that the issue starts and ends with my colleagues using solar panels from the People's Republic of China, but there has been a relatively recent development in the industry that has my blood boiling. I have noticed several of my competitors are now peddling SolarWorld modules and in doing so touting the fact that these are "Made in the USA". These modules are, in fact, actually Made in the USA. Given what I just shared, one would think I would be jumping for joy and that Sullivan Solar Power would be also offering this product. So, you may ask, what exactly is the issue here? Let's dive into the weeds, shall we?

 

SolarWorld is a German company that has a manufacturing plant in Oregon. Last year SolarWorld was expected to go out of business because they could not compete with cheap Chinese solar modules being subsidized by the Chinese government and imported to the United States with no tariffs. So SolarWorld did two things in an effort to stay afloat. First, they filed a complaint with the World Trade Organization because China was engaged in unfair business practices. Second, and this is what gets the blood boiling, they sold 30% of the cash strapped company to an organization called QatarSolar. Now, let's connect the dots.

 

QatarSoar is 100 percent owned by Shiekh Hamad bin Khlifa Thani Learn more here. He is a member of the ruling Qatari family. So what is the issue? Well, the United States State Department has labelled Qatar as the worst anti-terrorism ally of the United States. In particular, U.S. officials have determined that the Qatari family has given millions of dollars per year to Al Qaeda and Islamists to keep the peace and not make Qatar a target of their Jihad. This is so bad, you just can't dream this up. Learn more here.

 

It could be argued, and undoubtedly those who peddle QatarSolar (SolarWorld) panels will make the argument, that just because Qatar, who directly supports Islamist militants, owns 30% of SolarWorld it doesn't mean the money that you pay for your solar panels will end up supporting terrorists. This is true. It does not necessarily mean your dollar will end up in the Middle East, but 30% of it will.

 

Product selection at Sullivan Solar Power is done with consideration for the mission we are trying to accomplish. We want to make the world a better place by putting solar on every home, business, and institution in our realm of influence and work to revolutionize the way our region generates energy. However, we will not do so at the expense of our national economy or security. I challenge my competitors to wake up and do the same. 

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