The Biden administration on Thursday said it would pour $56 million into programs aimed at spurring domestic manufacturing of solar energy products as the US seeks to move its clean energy sector away from a dependence on Chinese-made goods.
The new funding from the Department of Energy will support technologies that are alternatives to the silicon-based products that dominate the market and are primarily made in Asia.
The announcement comes a week after the International Energy Agency said nations must expand their own solar production to secure the supplies needed to meet climate change goals. Some 90 per cent of US solar panels are made overseas.
That reliance has wreaked havoc on the US solar industry at a time when US President Joe Biden has set an ambitious goal to wean the nation's power sector off of fossil fuels by 2035. In the last two years, big solar projects have faced delays due to pandemic-related supply chain disruptions, import tariff threats and increased border scrutiny stemming from concerns about ties to forced labor in China's Xinjiang region.
"It's necessary that we take the steps to ensure that we can be as self-sufficient as possible," Garrett Nilsen, acting director for DOE's Solar Energy Technologies Office, said in an interview. "Not only for hitting decarbonization goals, but also just to make sure that we are as insulated as possible from any other global trade disruptions that might take place."
In a statement, DOE said it would put $27 million toward boosting production of solar panels made from cadmium telluride. That technology does not rely on solar-grade polysilicon, a raw material primarily made in China.
The United States is already a major producer of cadmium telluride panels thanks to First Solar Inc's Ohio facility.
An additional $29 million will go towards supporting work on panel designs that reduce manufacturing costs and developing the production of solar cells made form perovskites, a promising cheap alternative to silicon. That funding includes $10 million for projects to increase reuse and recycling of solar products.
In another show of support for solar energy, the administration also announced its approval to build the 125-mile (200 km) Ten West Link transmission line between Tonopah, Arizona and Blythe, California. The line is intended to support future development of solar energy projects in the Southwest.