US Solar Panel Manufacturers Might Regret Their Win Over India at the WTO

US Solar Panel Manufacturers Might Regret Their Win Over India at the WTO

We previously reported that a World Trade Organization dispute settlement panel ruled that India’s requirement that companies that sell solar power to the government use only domestically-made parts and components for its massive Jawaharlal Nehru National Solar Mission unfairly discriminated against American manufacturers.

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Is that really a good thing? There are several states and municipal governments here in the U.S. that do exactly what India wanted to do: subsidize local renewable energy companies and, in some cases, require them to buy silicon solar photovoltaic panels from local manufacturers.

[caption id="attachment_76085" align="aligncenter" width="550"]Solar photovoltaic panel array on a tiled house roof To receive a local power generation credit, should you have to consider foreign suppliers to put solar panels on your house?[/caption]

There are 44 programs in 23 states, and “China and India have already identified several of these programs as incompatible with WTO law,” according to a December 2015 paper by Vanderbilt University Law School Professor Timothy Meyer.

U.S. States Give Local Discounts

One that India identified is California’s Self Generation Incentive Program, which offers a 20% discount to in-state businesses that install California-made solar panels or other renewable energy technologies. California even has a website that gives consumers a list of manufacturers (in-state and out) and what type of solar technology they provide.

The governments of Connecticut, Delaware, Illinois, and other states also impose local content requirements on electrical power supply companies.

The WTO’s Appellate Body ruled in 2013 that local content requirements were unlawful. It said an Ontario, Canada, provincial government requirement that renewable power companies buy locally-made equipment discriminated against foreign suppliers. That ruling applied only to the Ontario case but India could, conceivably, use it as a basis for an appeal of the WTO ruling in this case.

Is Local Sourcing Discrimination?

Is a local requirement really discrimination? Really? The pro-U.S. solar ruling in India runs afoul of non-government-administered green building certification programs here in America, such as the U.S. Green Building Council‘s Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) standard which reward credits for regionally produced building materials. Many engineers specifying silicon solar photovoltaic panels — for both homes and commercial buildings as California and other states offer incentives to install the panels on homes and businesses — could find themselves stuck between trying to gain LEED credits by specifying local suppliers when cheaper foreign providers could invoke the WTO ruling.

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Maybe our trade representatives need to consider the further implications of winning this case. Sure, the Jawaharlal Nehru Solar Mission is a lucrative project. Goldman Sachs has invested $250 million in it and it will, eventually, add 2,250 megawatts of solar power to India’s grid. It’s understandable that U.S. solar manufacturers want a piece of such a massive project, but they should, perhaps, rethink using this WTO ruling to force their way in.

Industry First: An EPD For Cold-Formed Steel Studs and Track

Industry First: An EPD For Cold-Formed Steel Studs and Track

The Steel Recycling Institute recently released the first industry-wide Environmental Product Declaration (EPD) for cold-formed steel studs and track manufactured in the U.S. and Canada. The EPD quantifies the “cradle-to-gate” life-cycle environmental impacts, and can be used by architects and engineers to document their impacts for certification of buildings under the U.S. Green Building Council‘s LEED® (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) and other credit-based green building certification systems.

What Are EPDs?

EPDs are a standardized way of quantifying the environmental impact of a product or system. Declarations include information on the environmental impact of raw material acquisition, energy use and efficiency, content of materials and chemical substances, emissions to air, soil and water and waste generation.

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An EPD is created and verified in accordance with the International Standard ISO 14025, developed by the International Organization for Standardization (ISO). An EPD is also based on a peer-reviewed life-cycle assessment (LCA).

LEED has accepted EPDs for building products since version 4 of its system was released. Having EPDs opens steel products up to specification in a much wider range of building projects. Having them not only earns green credits, but it also is viewed by industry professionals as a measure of supply chain transparency.

[caption id="attachment_77026" align="aligncenter" width="550"]Cold-formed steel studs and track can now be declared and tracked for LEED projects. Source: Adobe Stock/ft2010. Cold-formed steel studs and track can now be declared and tracked for LEED projects. Source: Adobe Stock/ft2010.[/caption]

This is the first industry-wide assessment of full life cycle environmental impacts of steel commercial building products in North America. Roll-formed from galvanized steel sheet into a variety of shapes, cold-formed steel studs and track are being as the primary structural system for buildings up to nine stories in height and have been used for curtain walls and interior partitions for decades.

“Environmental impacts of materials are critical decision factors for architects, engineers and builders,” said Lawrence Kavanagh, president of Steel Market Development Institute, a business unit of American Iron and Steel Institute. “With the construction industry moving to comprehensive assessments of a product’s entire life cycle, it’s important this EPD is now being added to the resources we and our partners have developed for our customers in the construction industry.”

Cold-Formed Studs and Track, the First of Many EPDs

Kavanagh also said this is the first of several EPDs that will be released this year and next and that SMDI hopes to, eventually, have declarations available for all steel building products manufactured in the US.

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The ability of steel to be recycled has always been a strong selling point in getting it specified into LEED and other green buildings but EPDs could help certain products be much more easily specified by architects into building projects.

Contractors Clamor for LEED Alternatives

Contractors Clamor for LEED Alternatives

Turner Construction‘s 2014 Green Building Market Barometer shows that interest in alternative green building rating systems is up a massive 250% in two years.

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The US Green Building Council‘s Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) green building certification program has been the de facto standard in building certification since the middle of the last decade.

First Car Wars, Now Wood Wars – The Next Battle for US Steel Industry

First Car Wars, Now Wood Wars – The Next Battle for US Steel Industry

MetalMiner has extensively covered the trend of light-weighting in the automotive industry as it pertains to the growing use of aluminum and high-strength steels. But sometimes the battle extends beyond […]

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