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US Solar Production Capacity Functions Normally Under the Continuous Spreading of COVID-19

published: 2020-04-08 18:30

With the COVID-19 pandemic, there have been diagnosed cases in all states of the US, with over 160K of infected patients and 3,000 deaths, and under the continuous spreading of the virus, many companies have adopted countermeasures including flexible working hours and home office in order to further reduce the possibility of cross infection between the workers. Simultaneously, there are plants that have announced suspension in production, though the ceasing in production of critical items and necessities is regarded as arduous. Foreign media pointed out that there are still a considerable amount of solar manufacturing plants with regular production capacity. 

In general, the US is able to produce 7.5GW of solar modules each year, and this pandemic has become an ordeal for manufacturers at the fact that whether they are to continue production or guarantee the safety of the workers. Quite a few states in the US have ordered shutdown in production or issued stay-home-order; for instance, the production of the solar modules for Tesla in Buffalo have been suspended, as well as Fremont-based Solaria.

Nonetheless, there are still a number of solar manufacturers that are under normal production, like First Solar, which expressed that the COVID-19 pandemic does not impact the production capacity of its Ohio plant. At the same time, the pandemic does not seem to affect the solar production capacity for JinkoSolar, Heliene, Hanwha Q Cells, Sunpower, and Silfab, as these plants merely enforce “Social Distancing” as well as cancellation of conferences and explanation sessions with government officials and communities.

The reason behind the continuous operation for these plans, as commented by Martin Pochtaruk, CEO of Heliene, is that workers can be regarded as “Workforce of Critical Infrastructure”.

Hence, the production capacity of solar modules from JinkoSolar’s Jacksonville plant has reached 400MW, despite the fact that its workers have already been working at home. Jeff Juger, Director of Business Development for JinkoSolar, commented that only preventive measures were adopted before the emergence of diagnosed cases, where workers or visitors who went to affected areas must stay at home and measure their temperature every day for 14 days before granted access to the plant again, apart from necessary inspection or maintenance, and all workers must measure their temperature before entering the plant.

On the other hand, Heliene, based in Mountain Iron of Minnesota, decided to shut down its canteen. There are currently 19 workers on duty at the plant, and each person is maintaining a 2m distance, with gloves and other pandemic prevention equipment being worn. Such scene can also be seen in Washington, where the outbreak of COVID-19 is most severe; despite the two-week-long stay at home order issued by Governor Jay Inslee, the production capacity of Canada-based solar plant Silfab remains untouched, where the plant is currently implementing temperature measurement before entrance, as well as enhanced cleaning and sanitization.

Are solar modules considered as “Essential” products? Take Tesla as an example; the company temporarily suspended the operation of its Fremont plant on the 23rd, and only maintains basic operations, including the service operations for vehicles and energy, as well as charging infrastructure. Alameda County Sheriff’s Office also expressed that Tesla is not an essential business according to the definition given by the Alameda County Health Order.

Buck passing may be the result of raising such question. Architecture, manufacturing, and energy are generally essential elements and infrastructures in life, and what follows after shutdown and suspension in production from the consideration of pandemic prevention is economic frustration; hence, despite complaints regarding poor hygiene, unsafe working environments, or the inability of the workers to maintain a safe distance among themselves, they are still required to be present at work, with no access to any trade unions.

In this regard, the Solar Energy Industries Association expressed that the safety of the workers should be treated with significance.

According to the coverage of The New York Times, there are currently 66 cities from 26 states that have implemented home office, with more than 229 million workers affected. The San Francisco Bay Area issued a “Shelter-in-place” order, whereas Georgia also prohibits mass gatherings that are attended by more than 10 people. In spite of the synergistic effort, the fact that there are 50 states in the US means that almost half of them has not urged residents to not go out unless “absolutely necessary” or encouraged working from home.

Public health experts expressed that measures that are more aggressive and scrupulous is the only solution to controlling the spreading of the virus.

The solar industry is gradually on the decline under the impact of COVID-19. As pointed out by the first phase survey of SEIA, 22% of companies are drafting staff reduction, and among survey targets, 86% are worried about delays in construction, 84% are concerned toward delays in supply and equipment, 81% are unsettled by delays in permits, and 81% are anxious over project completion. Without subsidy from the government, working opportunity may possibly reduce by 50%.

 (Cover Photo Source: Flickr/zak zak CC BY 2.0)

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