By George Harvey
As usual, the climate has been one of the most important news items of the past two months. There is bad news, which is that 2017 was the second hottest year on record, worldwide, after 2016, which was an El Niño year. While we in the Northeast might have had the impression that it was cooler than normal, that was due to unusual weather patterns that did not reflect what was happening nearly everywhere else. For the month of December, the average temperatures in the entire state of Alaska were 15.7° F above normal.
Worse yet, 2017 was the warmest year on record for ocean waters. As water warms, it also expands, and this adds considerably to the rise of sea levels caused by melting glaciers. Satellites measurements have shown that the sea levels are rising at almost exactly the rate predicted by climate scientists’ computer models.
We have also seen news of slowdowns in construction of renewable projects nationwide due to uncertainty over hostile government policy. In Vermont, 232 full-time jobs were lost in the solar industry alone in a twelve-month period ending in November 2017, according to the Solar Foundation’s National Solar Jobs Census.
There is quite a lot of confusion over how the economics of solar power will go, since the president chose to impose a 30% tariff on solar panels imported from most producing countries, including China, Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, the Philippines, Mexico, and Canada. One of the effects of this has been that Chinese manufacturers have decided to build factories in India, which is one of the countries whose products are not subject to the tariff. More importantly, however, the tariff means that there will be increased prices on solar panels in the United States.
The increased taxation is largely being offset by falling prices of solar cells, which have fallen worldwide to new lows. In fact the latest information from Bloomberg New Energy Finance indicates that prices for new photovoltaic modules have fallen to levels that were almost unimaginable only a year ago. The cost of PVs have become only a small fraction of the total cost of installation. The prices of solar installations might not increase much after all, and the economics of solar power will almost certainly remain attractive. It is too early to see how this will play out.