When China ’s solar panels became the American job killer


Wuhan, China-Russell Abney worked in the solar industry […]

Wuhan, China-Russell Abney worked in the solar industry to raise two children. Over the past decade, the 49-year-old Georgia Tech graduate has worked in Perrysburg, a suburb of Toledo, Oregon, and has a decent salary as an equipment engineer at the largest solar panel manufacturing company in the United States.
On the other side of the world, Takamatsu also has a success story that started with solar energy. He was previously an organic fruit retailer and lived in the dusty Chinese city of Wuhan. Four years ago, he installed solar panels on his roof and found it profitable, so he started to enter this industry and install it for others. As of last summer, he and a team of 50 employees each installed nearly 100 rooftop solar panel systems.
Then, China shocked the global solar business and changed the lives of these two people.
"A little oscillation in China," said Frank Haugwitz, a senior solar industry consultant based in Beijing. "It could cause prices to plunge around the world."
At the end of last summer, Chinese officials began to publicly consider reducing their subsidies to domestic solar panel buyers. Takamatsu's company business dried up and half of its workers were laid off. "I worked hard for a few years and finally made a good start," he said. "Now I have to start again."
China's solar panel manufacturers have reduced prices by more than a quarter and compensated for the reduction in subsidies, which has caused global prices to plummet. Western companies find themselves unable to compete with them, and from Germany to Michigan to Texas, layoffs are everywhere.
This includes Perrysburg, where Abni and about 450 employees suddenly lost their jobs. "In less than a few months, everything collapsed," Abney said. "It's like the death of a family. People will feel embarrassed about it."
President Trump had promised to end what he said was unfair business practices in China. When he met with Chinese President Xi Jinping at the Maraago Estate in Palm Beach, Florida this week, he pressured the latter on trade and other issues . Trump's rhetoric is mainly related to old chimney industries such as steel, and job opportunities in these industries began to disappear long before the rise of China.
But economists and business groups have warned that China's industrial ambitions have entered a new and far-reaching stage. With the government's strong financial resources, increasingly mature technologies, and comprehensive plans to free itself from dependence on foreign companies, China intends to become a leader in future industries such as renewable energy, big data, and self-driving cars.