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Auto Industry May be Key to Renewables

In October 2009, Skyline Solar announced that the company will employ an auto-manufacturing supplier, Cosma International, to manufacture and assemble large portions of its High Gain Solar (HGS) system. Over the past few years, we’ve seen other endeavors meant to stimulate the automobile manufacturing industry while accelerating energy independence. For example, the Cash for Clunkers program, encouraged new purchases of fuel-efficient cars, a way to reduce carbon emissions while stimulating the auto industry.

Another example, the V Vehicles plant in Louisiana, shows how existing factories can be used to generate renewable energy products: An out of operation auto plant in Monroe, Louisiana, will now be used to produce electric vehicles, providing about 1,400 local jobs.

Sustainability and scalability hand in hand

There are many benefits that can come from the mutually-beneficial relationship between the emerging green economy and the existing U.S manufacturing infrastructure. For Skyline, the benefits were simple: A greener, quicker and cheaper way to bring its HGS system to market.

As the U.S. moves full force toward renewable energy, we need to consider not only the products we use, but the manufacturing process behind the products. But building new solar manufacturing facilities is not the ideal ‘green’ method, especially when fully-developed plants are sitting idle across the country.

On top of the environmental concerns, utilizing existing plants can help move the process forward much quicker and with less capital. Environmental Impact Reports (EIRs), for example, are complex and expensive bureaucratic processes often taking several years to complete. Alternatively, if companies use existing facilities and technology which have already been approved for manufacturing, we can move to production much quicker.

Germany as an example

Many European nations rapidly adopted solar energy by creating aggressive incentive programs. However, Germany was the only country that went the extra step and also sought to maintain and grow manufacturing jobs within its borders while other countries stop at tax incentives. Germany provided businesses with an aggressive 50-percent subsidy for companies that manufactured solar products domestically. Through this ambitious program, the German government promoted and maintained healthy manufacturing and engineering jobs.

While the U.S. has done a great job to promote solar adoption, it needs to put legislation in place to level the playing field between U.S. and overseas manufacturers. For example, when Chinese manufacturers can provide the same technology at the fraction of the cost, U.S. installers really have no choice, particularly in this economic climate.

A lesson we’ve all learned from the renewable energy movement is that being sustainable and being economical are one in the same. The auto industry presents a unique opportunity to the U.S. – a trained workforce and a wealth of underutilized facilities.

Author Bob MacDonald, CEO of Skyline Solar, is a solar industry veteran. Bob has worked closely with policy makers and helped draft legislation he believes can promote solar adoption while resuscitating the auto manufacturing industry.

[photo credit: kevindooley]