Accurate descriptions of the U.S. clean energy market always required a little nuance. Installing solar panels, wind turbines, and energy storage means that the U.S. has routinely risen to the top of the global ranking of market sizes.
For example, according to the latest forecast by Wood Mackenzie Power & Renewables, the US should install over 19 gigawatts of solar capacity in 2020, a 43 percent increase from 2019 despite the negative impact of the coronavirus pandemic.
Manufacturing the panels, turbines, inverters, and other equipment installed across America is a whole different matter. For example, even if every domestically produced solar module – which amounts to 7.5 gigawatts per year – were installed in the US, a lot of equipment would still have to be imported.
And it's not just solar. For example, WoodMac estimates that nearly 1 gigawatt of grid-scale energy storage has been installed in the past five years and that front-of-the-meter storage is expected to grow to more than 5 gigawatts by 2025. The vast majority of cells that are inserted into batteries today are manufactured by manufacturers in Asia and imported into the USA
Nonetheless, US manufacturing of clean energy devices – and electrical components in general – is gaining traction. Plants from Washington to Florida are already producing solar panels, battery cells, and other power supplies, while others are being planned. One driver is the size of the market both in the US and around the world. For example, Bloomberg New Energy Finance predicts that solar, wind, and batteries will attract $ 10 trillion in investment by 2050. In February, the US Department of Energy (DOE) announced $ 100 million for transformative clean energy research and development with an emphasis on building domestic clean energy supply chains and promoting American manufacturing in the sector. Under the new Biden government, the DOE is expected to invest billions more in 2021.
The U.S. manufacturing location has the advantage of close geographic proximity to an important market – a potential benefit highlighted during the COVID-19 pandemic when global supply chains were burdened by plant shutdowns. Isolation from Section 201 trade tariffs, the ex-Trump administration executive order for the mass electricity distribution system, and other trade defense measures also contribute to manufacturers' decision to establish facilities in the United States
Work and proximity to customers are the most important criteria for choosing a location
More than 15 years ago, GE Renewable Energy selected Pensacola, Florida as the location for its US facility, which manufactures onshore wind turbine components. The choice of the westernmost city on the Florida Panhandle was determined by several factors, including the ability to import materials for making turbine drives, heads and hubs. “Having access to the nearby port for incoming materials is a key benefit,” said Momar Mattocks, executive plant manager at GE Renewable Energy's Pensacola facility.
Access to a pool of skilled workers is also crucial for the success of the Pensacola facility, which employs more than 700 people. Since its location in Pensacola, GE Renewable Energy has developed a close partnership with the University of West Florida. “Access to a skilled workforce is critical,” says Mattocks. “Manufacturing knowledge in the assembly [and] Lean manufacturing principles are key to delivering constant delivery to our customers. ”
Chicago-based S&C Electric Company (S&C) opened a manufacturing facility in West Palm Beach, Florida in 2015. The proximity to the energy supplier Florida Power & Light Company (FPL) was a major reason for the decision. FPL has long been focused on implementing smart grid technology and has invested over $ 5 billion since 2006 to make the grid smarter and more reliable. When the time came to find a location to manufacture its TripSaver II Cutout-Mounted Closers, a product designed to replace manually operated fuses, S&C saw many benefits in the vicinity of the FPL headquarters in Juno Beach. “It made a lot of sense for us to be steps away from a major customer with a new facility that manufactures state-of-the-art products,” said Jim Johnson, S&C chief operating officer.
In addition to purchasing and installing 80,000 TripSaver II auto-reclosers (also known as automated side switches), FPL has also had a steady stream of FPL line workers and staff visiting the S&C facility to learn more about the manufacturing process and Give feedback product. “Especially with a new product like the TripSaver II auto-reclosing device that had to be accepted by everyone to open and close the device, play with it and ask questions, really helped,” said Johnson.
The wisdom of having a mix of national and international suppliers and manufacturing facilities has been strengthened by COVID-19. “Must-haves for manufacturing are dual and triple sourcing and compromising the supply chain and any dependency on manufacturing at one location,” said Johnson. “This is a big undertaking and our goal is to eliminate risk by creating redundancy.”