A primarily domestic supply chain for renewable technologies — such as batteries and solar panels — is becoming increasingly vital as the United States sets plans for clean energy infrastructure expansion. Relying on foreign sourcing and manufacturing will be more expensive, cost middle-class Americans valuable jobs and help support unethical, high-emissions working environments.
Here is a look at why a domestic supply chain is critical for the future of America’s renewable energy industry.
Securing a Supply Chain for Renewable Technology
Energy independence and security are the clearest reasons for strengthening the domestic supply chain for renewable technology. As the world moves toward renewable energy as primary power sources, supply chains will shift accordingly. If the U.S. has its own renewable technology supply chain, it will have maximum control over pricing and production.
A domestic supply chain for renewable technology is a matter of national security and independence. The impact of Russian oil and gas sanctions due to the Russia-Ukraine conflict in 2022 has shown the world the importance of energy independence. So, for America to maintain its autonomy moving forward, a stable domestic supply chain for renewable energy technologies is vital.
Additionally, the U.S. has the technology and expertise to lead clean energy innovation. Domestic R&D programs could develop the best possible renewable technology manufacturing systems, resulting in more efficient, less polluting and more affordable renewable technologies for Americans.
For instance, U.S. clean energy manufacturers could make the best use of domestic next-gen PCB development, which is crucial given the ongoing computer chip shortage. PCBs help power generation machines perform optimally. Solar panels, wind geothermal and hydropower equipment all feature electronic components. Developing components that can handle high-performing energy management and withstand high temperatures, depending on the environment. Reshoring PCB manufacturing would mean pricing would not be impacted by the affairs of other nations or by import and export costs.
Ensuring Climate and Environmental Protection
The U.S. needs a domestic supply chain for renewable technology to ensure American clean energy is truly clean. If the supply chain is based primarily in America, everyone can rest assured the power comes from manufacturing and generation facilities that are not polluting the environment. The climate impact of the supply chain can be traced and monitored in a primarily domestic scenario.
This factor is important to note because environmental protection is a large part of the global shift to renewable energy. Solar, wind and other renewable sources emit far fewer greenhouse gasses than conventional ones, such as fossil fuels and coal. However, to maximize the positive impact of switching to renewable energy, the U.S. has to ensure renewable energy technologies are not reliant on supply chains that negatively impact the environment.
As of 2021, China produces approximately 80% of the world’s solar panels, indicating the global renewable energy supply chain heavily depends on Chinese manufacturing. Unfortunately, studies have shown a solar panel produced in China creates double the carbon emissions of one made in Europe. As long as the U.S. remains reliant on other nations for its renewable technologies, it will have little control over the clean energy supply chain.
Building an Ethical Clean Energy Supply Chain
Intense production of carbon emissions is not the only potential drawback of relying on foreign renewable energy supply chains. Some key nations in the global supply chain for renewable technology utilize unethical workplace practices against fair pay and safe working conditions. Only through a domestic supply chain for clean energy technology can the U.S. ensure its power is ethically sourced.
For instance, the Democratic Republic of Congo produces most of the world’s cobalt, which is a vital raw material for electric vehicle batteries. U.S. consumers may think they are helping the environment — and others by extension— by using an EV. In reality, their clean electric vehicle is based on a supply chain where workers toil deep underground in hot and unsafe working conditions with little water and food for over 10 hours per day, making meager wages.
Similarly, Chinese solar panel manufacturing is suspected of utilizing unpaid or low-cost forced labor, though officials have denied these allegations for years. People in minority groups — such as those from China’s Uighur Muslim population — are disproportionately impacted by these forced labor programs, further worsening the ethical concerns.
The U.S. must build its own domestic supply chain for renewable technology to ensure American energy and clean technologies are rooted in ethical supply chains that respect human and workers’ rights.
Generating Domestic Supply Chain Jobs
A robust domestic supply chain for renewable energy technologies will generate millions of well-paying jobs, particularly for middle-class Americans. Reports from the U.S. Department of Energy have reinforced the importance of job creation in the transition to renewable energy across the country. Skilled workers will help expand and modernize the American power grid, manufacture components for renewable energy and install and maintain new infrastructure.
A stable domestic supply chain for renewable technology will ensure American investment in renewable energy returns to U.S. workers as much as possible. From sourcing to manufacturing to installation, a U.S.-based supply chain will maximize the American jobs created by the renewable energy industry, fueling the economy and supporting the middle class.
Building a Truly Clean Energy Future
The transition to renewable energy in the U.S. is crucial to fighting climate change and keeping the planet livable for people everywhere. With a domestic supply chain for renewable technology, the U.S. can ensure its renewable energy is rooted in an ethical, environmentally-friendly supply chain. Domestic renewable technology production will also create millions of high-paying jobs for Americans all over the country, revitalizing the middle class and the economy.