Ryan Mulholland is an International Trade Specialist within the International Trade Administration. His focus is renewable energy and energy efficiency.
In the decades ahead, millions of people will migrate from rural communities to the burgeoning urban centers of the Asia-Pacific. The new urban dwellers will demand electricity to help start business, power modern amenities, and promote a rising standard of living.
Already the 21 economies of APEC account for 40 percent of the world’s population and more than half (54%) of the world’s gross domestic product. The APEC economies account for an even larger share of the world’s energy consumption (60%), yet based on the region’s future growth the region will likely increase its proportion of the global energy demand in the coming decades and will likely be disproportionately affected by the adverse effects of climate change.
While daunting, the challenges presented by these facts represent an opportunity for the Asia-Pacific region. Working together, the 21 APEC economies could utilize their abundance of renewable energy potential and existing manufacturing capacity to become a leader in clean energy trade – particularly solar energy.
To help facilitate trade in solar energy technologies, the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative and International Trade Administration, with funding from U.S. AID and Underwriters Laboratories (UL) and the support of the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA) and Intertek and the U.S. Department of Energy, hosted an APEC Conference on Facilitating Trade in Solar Technologies through Standards and Conformity Assessment.
The conference was part of APEC’s Senior Official’s Meeting in San Francisco and will be followed by a more specific conference in Chinese Taipei focused on performance and durability of solar photovoltaics. The results of the APEC Solar Technologies Survey were presented at this conference by Underwriters Laboratories, who led the organization of a survey completed by 15 of the 21 economies. The survey laid out the regulatory landscape and other voluntary and mandatory measures being implemented for solar technologies in the APEC Region.
As Matthew McGuire, director of Commerce’s Office of Business Liaison noted during the conference, “rather than developing our solar industries separately, we must collaborate. These technologies are too important to our collective futures to not work together.”
The APEC accounts for nearly 90 percent of the world’s solar manufacturing capacity for photovoltaic cells and modules. The APEC region enjoys some of the best solar locations in the world. But much more can be done. Rather than developing solar industries separately with trade barriers erected to keep foreign products out, the APEC economies can capitalize on their existing advantages and become an example to the rest of the world.
Use of international standards, for example, could be adopted and aligned in the Asian Pacific. Greater acceptance of third-party certification among APEC economies is also a goal. These types of changes could facilitate trade and help to reduce the unnecessary costs associated with manufacturing products to different standards for different markets.
The San Francisco conference sought to address a simple truth: without quality performance standards, consumers of solar energy products must bet on unfamiliar technologies without knowing if they will work as promised. When a consumer’s initial exposure to solar energy is so important, the lack of performance standards can lead to the proliferation of illusory bargains where cheap products hide their high maintenance costs and short product life and ultimately could taint any future use of solar energy.
Several private sector participants took part in the conference, including Eric Hafter from Sharp Solar Energy Solutions and Keith Williams from Underwriters Laboratories. Schneider Electric, Dupont Photovoltaic Solutions, Western Renewables Group, Intertek, and Satcon Technology Corporation also took part in the conference.