Renewables Flat; Investments in Solar, Tesla Factory Bode Well for Future Gains

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The monthly Renewables MMI® registered a value of 66 in September, on par with August’s price.


Renewable technologies posted another flat month, thanks mostly to drops in price from grain-oriented electrical steel (GOES) and silicon. Both were significantly affected by US regulations this month as – until very recently – imports of GOES from Japan, Poland and Germany were being hit with tariffs upon import into the US and imports of Chinese and Taiwanese silicon solar panels are being significantly hindered, themselves, by a different ongoing tariff situation.

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MetalMiner will report about the month in GOES entirely in its own post later this week, so we’ll concentrate on the slip in solar silicon prices here.

China- and Taiwan-based solar-grade crystalline silicon wafer makers, in view of growing demand for PV systems in their home markets, are raising prices which means, coupled with tariffs placed on their products by the US Dept. of Commerce, the cheap prices that US consumers have long enjoyed from Chinese imports are going away.

Those cheap prices fueled quite a boom in solar adoption, particularly in the American west. The US Energy Information Administration reported that use of US Solar Energy Production has more than doubled since last year. None of this is happening in a vacuum. China’s silicon metal exports are expected to rise more than 15% this year to an all-time high. Exports of the metal are likely to exceed 800,000 tons, according to data from the China International Silicon Conference.

While the demand for crystalline silicon photovoltaic solar panels in both the US and China is still strong, as evidenced by both high adoption numbers and strong orders for PV products, the inevitable price increases will test the resolve of residential consumers to continue to invest in roof-mounted panels and building-integrated PV arrays. Prices, however, are just information and the US and Chinese markets could, in the long run, be willing to bear the higher costs both for reasons of environmental sustainability and lower energy bills.

Both the US and Chinese governments still offer generous support in the form of tax breaks, faster permitting and actual purchase subsidies for solar investment. The next question for the growing solar generation market will be if the higher prices don’t stunt the rate of adoption, when will the market be mature enough to begin pulling subsidies and tax breaks?

In other renewable investment news, Tesla Motors picked Reno, Nev., for the location of its $5 billion electric car battery Gigafactory this month. Reno beat out prospective sites in California, New Mexico, Arizona and Texas. The factory will bring 6,500 skilled jobs to Reno and create batteries for Tesla’s new Model 3 car, planned to be Tesla’s first mass market sedan. Nevada gave Tesla $1.25 billion in assorted tax incentives over 20 years to win the factory.

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The price of Chinese cobalt cathodes rose 1.8 percent over the past month to $37,611 per metric ton, the second straight month of gains. The price of US steel plate closed the month up 1.1 percent at $881.00 per short ton.

A 6.7 percent drop left US grain-oriented electrical steel (GOES) at $2,687 per metric ton. Last month, silicon prices dropped by 0.7 percent to $2,263 per metric ton. The value of Chinese steel plate weakened by 0.3 percent this month, settling at $584.51 per metric ton.

Hovering around $63,499 per metric ton for the month, neodymium remained unchanged. Prices for Korean steel plate remained constant this past month, holding at around $888.48 per metric ton. Japanese steel plate traded sideways last month, staying around $728.37 per metric ton.

The Renewables MMI® collects and weights 8 metal price points used extensively within the renewable energy industry to provide a unique view into renewable energy metal price trends over a 30-day period. For more information on the Renewables MMI®, how it’s calculated or how your company can use the index, please drop us a note at: info (at) agmetalminer (dot) com.

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