Evergreen Solar announced last week that it was closing its plant in Devens, Mass., laying off 800 workers, and moving production to China. Evergreen’s factory had received more than $40 million in subsidies, which led many to see the plant closing as lesson in the futility of green energy and industrial policy. But what does Evergreen’s story really teach us about solar energy, public subsidies and the future of American manufacturing? … The Devens closing reminds us that even when ideas are “made in America,” production is almost always cheaper in China.
I know this looks like a Debbie Downer story, but I think it’s an important example to consider what to focus on, and what we (Americans) can do best at this time — as a government we do not seem to do so great when when we try to be venture capitalists with a specific business (solar) but we do amazingly when we collectively invest in infrastructure and education. The article sums it up nicely…
For decades, local economic success has come from entrepreneurship and education, not large-scale manufacturing. The Devens closing doesn’t imply that there is anything wrong with clean energy, but it does suggest the difficulties inherent in trying to beat China at cheap manufacturing. In the long run, America will be richer than China only by having smarter citizens, and that requires the skills that come from schools and cities, not dispersed factories.
If $40m and all the advantages in the world couldn’t keep a solar plant competitive in the USA, what races can enter in to win? Design, engineering, rapid-prototyping designs — and of course working with partners around the globe for manufacturing.