The coronavirus pandemic continues to disrupt supply chains and is now slowing the expansion of utility-scale solar power in the U.S.


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By Catherine Boudreau | August 17, 2021

SUPPLY SPASMS — The coronavirus pandemic continues to disrupt supply chains and is now slowing the expansion of utility-scale solar power in the U.S.

George Hershman, president of Swinerton Renewable Energy, the largest utility-scale solar installer in the country, said projects are months or even a year behind schedule as developers wait for the cost of commodities and shipping to fall. Also complicating things is an industry effort to ensure supply chains are free of forced labor and a lobbying campaign to remove solar tariffs. Hershman spoke to Catherine.

How are you being affected?

We’re seeing cost increases and delivery challenges in everything from steel, aluminum and copper, to the chips that are used in a lot of our control equipment. The utility-scale solar module is the biggest challenge. They make up 50 percent of the costs of materials and equipment within our projects.

We think this is a short-term challenge. The shipping issues could start to resolve themselves through the end of the year. But compounding this is that the retail season is coming up because of Christmas.

What are you doing to ensure solar materials aren’t made with forced labor?

U.S. Customs and Border Protection is trying to enforce a withhold release order around the sourcing of that product. There aren't guidelines for how to trace these materials, so that is where industry can be helpful. The Solar Energy Industries Association put together a protocol and is working with the administration.

Our procurement group is also working with suppliers to start administering that protocol. We are working with manufacturers to put chain-of-custody documents together so we can have some assurance that products aren’t coming from regions like Xinjiang, China. Manufacturers realize that this is a problem for their customers in the U.S., Europe and other places, so they are willing to work with us.

What else do you want from Washington?

We support Sen. John Ossoff’s bill focused on tax credits for U.S. solar manufacturers. But we want it to be extended to the entire solar supply chain, such as inverters, racking and electrical components, not just modules.

The administration also needs to get rid of the Section 201 tariffs. It was aimed at deterring imports from China and shoring up a domestic manufacturing base, but that doesn’t exist for utility-scale solar. And you can’t shore up an industry just with a tariff. There have to be other policies that support manufacturing.

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