The nation is facing once in a generation choices about how energy ought to be delivered to homes, businesses and electric cars — decisions that could shape the course of climate change and determine how the United States copes with wildfires, heat waves and other extreme weather linked to global warming.
On one side, large electric utilities and President Biden want to build thousands of miles of power lines to move electricity created by distant wind turbines and solar farms to cities and suburbs. On the other, some environmental organizations and community groups are pushing for greater investment in rooftop solar panels, batteries and local wind turbines.
There is an intense policy struggle taking place in Washington and state capitals about the choices that lawmakers, energy businesses and individuals make in the next few years, which could lock in an energy system that lasts for decades. The divide between those who want more power lines and those calling for a more decentralized energy system has split the renewable energy industry and the environmental movement. And it has created partnerships of convenience between fossil fuel companies and local groups fighting power lines.
At issue is how quickly the country can move to cleaner energy and how much electricity rates will increase.
senators from both parties agreed to in June. That deal includes the creation of a Grid Development Authority to speed up approvals for transmission lines.
Most energy experts agree that the United States must improve its aging electric grids, especially after millions of Texans spent days freezing this winter when the state’s electricity system faltered.
“The choices we make today will set us on a path that, if history is a barometer, could last for 50 to 100 years,” said Amy Myers Jaffe, managing director of the Climate Policy Lab at Tufts University. “At stake is literally the health and economic well-being of every American.”
The option supported by Mr. Biden and some large energy companies would replace coal and natural gas power plants with large wind and solar farms hundreds of miles from cities, requiring lots of new power lines. Such integration would strengthen the control that the utility industry and Wall Street have over the grid.
batteries installed at homes, businesses and municipal buildings.
Those batteries kicked in up to 6 percent of the state grid’s power supply during the crisis, helping to make up for idled natural gas and nuclear power plants. Rooftop solar panels generated an additional 4 percent of the state’s electricity.
become more common in recent years.
Some environmentalists argue that greater use of rooftop solar and batteries is becoming more essential because of climate change.
After its gear ignited several large wildfires, Pacific Gas & Electric began shutting off power on hot and windy days to prevent fires. The company emerged from bankruptcy last year after amassing $30 billion in liabilities for wildfires caused by its equipment, including transmission lines.
Elizabeth Ellenburg, an 87-year-old cancer survivor in Napa, Calif., bought solar panels and a battery from Sunrun in 2019 to keep her refrigerator, oxygen equipment and appliances running during PG&E’s power shut-offs, a plan that she said has worked well.
“Usually, when PG&E goes out it’s not 24 hours — it’s days,” said Ms. Ellenburg, a retired nurse. “I need to have the ability to use medical equipment. To live in my own home, I needed power other than the power company.”
working to improve its equipment. “Our focus is to make both our distribution and transmission system more resilient and fireproof,” said Sumeet Singh, PG&E’s chief risk officer.
But spending on fire prevention by California utilities has raised electricity rates, and consumer groups say building more power lines will drive them even higher.
Average residential electricity rates nationally have increased by about 14 percent over the last decade even though average household energy use rose just over 1 percent.
2019 report by the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, a research arm of the Energy Department, found that greater use of rooftop solar can reduce the need for new transmission lines, displace expensive power plants and save the energy that is lost when electricity is moved long distances. The study also found that rooftop systems can put pressure on utilities to improve or expand neighborhood wires and equipment.
Texas was paralyzed for more than four days by a deep freeze that shut down power plants and disabled natural gas pipelines. People used cars and grills and even burned furniture to keep warm; at least 150 died.
One reason for the failure was that the state has kept the grid managed by the Electric Reliability Council of Texas largely disconnected from the rest of the country to avoid federal oversight. That prevented the state from importing power and makes Texas a case for the interconnected power system that Mr. Biden wants.
Consider Marfa, an artsy town in the Chihuahuan Desert. Residents struggled to stay warm as the ground was blanketed with snow and freezing rain. Yet 75 miles to the west, the lights were on in Van Horn, Texas. That town is served by El Paso Electric, a utility attached to the Western Electricity Coordinating Council, a grid that ties together 14 states, two Canadian provinces and a Mexican state.
$1.4 million, compared with about $1 million to Donald J. Trump, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.
In Washington, developers of large solar and wind projects are pushing for a more connected grid while utilities want more federal funding for new transmission lines. Advocates for rooftop solar panels and batteries are lobbying Congress for more federal incentives.
Separately, there are pitched battles going on in state capitals over how much utilities must pay homeowners for the electricity generated by rooftop solar panels. Utilities in California, Florida and elsewhere want lawmakers to reduce those rates. Homeowners with solar panels and renewable energy groups are fighting those efforts.
Building power lines is hard.
Despite Mr. Biden’s support, the utility industry could struggle to add power lines.
Many Americans resist transmission lines for aesthetic and environmental reasons. Powerful economic interests are also at play. In Maine, for instance, a campaign is underway to stop a 145-mile line that will bring hydroelectric power from Quebec to Massachusetts.
New England has phased out coal but still uses natural gas. Lawmakers are hoping to change that with the help of the $1 billion line, called the New England Clean Energy Connect.
This spring, workmen cleared trees and installed steel poles in the forests of western Maine. First proposed a decade ago, the project was supposed to cut through New Hampshire until the state rejected it. Federal and state regulators have signed off on the Maine route, which is sponsored by Central Maine Power and HydroQuebec.
But the project is mired in lawsuits, and Maine residents could block it through a November ballot measure.
set a record in May, and some scientists believe recent heat waves were made worse by climate change.
“Transmission projects take upward of 10 years from conception to completion,” said Douglas D. Giuffre, a power expert at IHS Markit. “So if we’re looking at decarbonization of the power sector by 2035, then this all needs to happen very rapidly.”
HOUSTON — When OPEC barred oil exports to the United States in 1973, creating long gasoline lines, President Richard Nixon pledged an effort that would combine the spirit of the Apollo program and the determination of the Manhattan Project.
“By the end of this decade, we will have developed the potential to meet our own energy needs without depending on any foreign energy sources,” he said in a televised address.
His timing was off — it took more than 40 years — but the country has come pretty close to energy independence in recent years thanks to a surge in domestic shale oil and natural gas production and the harnessing of solar and wind energy.
That independence, however, is fragile. Last week, cars lined up at gas stations across much of the Southeast after the Colonial Pipeline was paralyzed by a cyberattack by a criminal group seeking a ransom. The electric grid is also coming under greater stress because of climate change. In the last year, a heat wave in California and a deep freeze in Texas forced rolling blackouts as demand for power outstripped supply.
panic buying rarely seen in decades produced shortages, and prices at the pump rose as much as 20 cents a gallon for regular gasoline in some states in a few days, according to AAA.
Mr. Yergin said that drivers who lined up at pumps to fill gas cans and even plastic bags made the situation worse. The impulse to hoard harkened back to the oil shocks of the 1970s and appeared to touch a chord in the national psyche.
“People remembered gas lines even though they weren’t born yet,” Mr. Yergin said.
Colonial Pipeline, a private company, resumed full operations over the weekend, but it will take at least several more days before many gas stations are restocked.
Energy companies will come under greater pressure from governments and investors to bulk up their defenses against cyberattacks, but those and other vulnerabilities will not be easily overcome, especially after years of underinvestment.
Upgrading the energy system will not be easy. Dozens of competing companies that operate a vast web of oil and gas wells and pumping stations, transmission lines and power plants will need coaxing to make their operations more resilient to weather and criminal attacks. Considerable funding will have to come from business and government, as well as research to keep ahead of the cybercriminals. President Biden’s $2 trillion infrastructure plan devotes $100 billion to the transmission grid.
The quest for energy independence has never been a straight line, and there have been many unfortunate twists. Reliance on Middle East oil was a major consideration in military action and diplomatic strategy, including alliances with countries like Saudi Arabia with disturbing human rights records. A half-century ago, the country shifted from burning heating oil to relying more heavily on coal, which contributed to climate change.
But the search for energy independence also led to innovation. Fracking — the hydraulic fracturing of shale oil and natural gas deposits — not only slashed energy imports but also made the United States a major exporter. Suddenly oil and gas were not a national security vulnerability but a tool to further American interests.
nearly half of the transportation fuel needs of the region.
When hurricanes hit, and refineries on the Gulf shut down, gasoline and diesel prices tend to rise along the East Coast. Normally, that is not a huge problem because companies store lots of fuel close to where it is used and trucks and barges can usually make up the difference. This time, however, uncertainty about how long it would take to restore supplies made the Colonial Pipeline’s shutdown much more disruptive.
The ransomware attack was the work of DarkSide, an extortionist ring that has been responsible for scores of attacks on companies in several countries. But it is hardly the only group that infiltrates computer systems to extort money. Others go by names like REvil, Maze and LockBit.
“The technology moves so quickly, you solve one or two or twenty possible vulnerabilities in your computer systems and the hackers find a different way to get in.” said Drue Pearce, a former deputy administrator of the federal Pipeline Hazardous Materials Safety Administration.
The criminal groups represent a threat to industries beyond energy. But experts say energy is of particular concern because it is essential to a functioning economy. The peril is no less complex than reducing the United States’ reliance on foreign oil, said Bill Richardson, a former energy secretary.
“This is a new threat that we are not prepared for,” he said.
HARANABUSH, Syria — When the Syrian government attacked their village, Radwan al-Shimali’s family hastily threw clothes, blankets and mattresses into their truck and sped off to begin new lives as refugees, leaving behind their house, farmland and television.
Among the belongings they kept was one prized technology: the solar panel now propped up on rock next to the tattered tent they call home in an olive grove near the village of Haranabush in northwestern Syria.
“It is important,” Mr. al-Shimali said of the 270-watt panel, his family’s sole source of electricity. “When there is sun during the day, we can have light at night.”
An unlikely solar revolution of sorts has taken off in an embattled, rebel-controlled pocket of northwestern Syria, where large numbers of people whose lives have been upended by the country’s 10-year-old civil war have embraced the sun’s energy simply because it is the cheapest source of electricity around.
the Islamic State lost its last patch of territory in Syria in 2019, the northwest was importing fuel from Turkey that was much purer but cost more than twice as much, now about $150 for a 58-gallon barrel of Turkish diesel, compared with $60 for a barrel from eastern Syria a few years ago.
That price spike pushed customers into the arms of solar power, said Ahmed Falaha, who sells solar panels and batteries in the town of Binnish in Idlib.
He had originally sold generators, but added solar panels in 2014. They weren’t popular at first because they produced less electricity, but when fuel prices went up, people noticed at night that their neighbors who had solar panels still had lights while they sat in the dark. Demand grew, and in 2017, he stopped selling generators.
“Now we work on solar energy day and night,” he said.
His best sellers were Canadian-made 130-watt panels that had been imported into Syria after a few years at a solar farm in Germany, he said. They cost $38 each.
For those with more to invest, he had Chinese-made 400-watt panels for $100.
His standard package for a modest home consisted of four panels, two batteries, cables and other equipment for $550, he said. Most families could use that to run a refrigerator or washing machine during the day and lights and a television at night.
As people got used to solar power, he started selling large installations to workshops and chicken farms. He recently sold his largest package yet, 160 solar panels for about $20,000, to a farmer who had nearly gone broke buying diesel to run his irrigation pump and needed a cheaper alternative.
“It is expensive at the start, but then it’s free,” Mr. Falaha said, showing a video on his phone of the solar-powered sprinklers watering a lush, green field.
Farmers who embraced solar appreciated the lack of noise and smoke, but what mattered most was price.
“Here, the last thing people think about is the environment,” Mr. Falaha said. Nearby, a colleague of his poured battery acid down the shop’s drain.
Outside of town, Mamoun Kibbi, 46, stood amid lush green fields of fava beans, eggplants and garlic.
In recent years, the price of diesel to power the family’s 40-year-old irrigation pump had gotten so expensive that it erased Mr. Kibbi’s profits. So last year he shelled out nearly $30,000 to install 280 400-watt panels on the flat roof of a defunct chicken farm.
The large swath of panels were on a seesaw base connected to a winch so he could adjust their angle to the sun through the day. When it was sunny, the system kept the pump going for eight hours. It worked less well on cloudy days, but he was pleased with how his crops looked so far.
“It is true that it costs a lot, but then you forget about it for a long time,” he said.
Most people in northwest Syria have simpler energy needs and much less money to invest. More than half of the 4.2 million people in the rebel-held area have been displaced from elsewhere, and many struggle to secure life’s basics, like healthy food, clean water and soap.
But many of the refugee families living in crowded tent camps have at least one solar panel that produces enough energy to charge their phones and power small LED lights at night. Others have three or four panels to power such luxuries as internet routers and televisions.
In the city of Idlib, Ahmed Bakkar, a former fireman, and his family had settled in the second-floor of a four-floor apartment building whose roof had been punched in by an airstrike.
The family had moved six times during the war and lost nearly everything along the way, Mr. Bakkar said. Most of the rooms in the family’s current apartment lacked windows, so he had hung blankets to block the wind. They couldn’t afford heating oil, so they burned pistachio shells to keep warm.
But he had managed to buy four used solar panels that sat on a rack on the balcony, facing the sky.
When the sun was out, they provided enough energy to pump water up to the apartment so they didn’t have to carry it up, and they charged a battery so the family could have some lights at night.
“It works for us because it’s free energy,” said Mr. Bakkar, 50.
His nephew, also Ahmed Bakkar, was less impressed.
“It is an alternative,” he said. But if Syria were more functional and the family could simply plug into the grid, “it would be better.”
This obituary is part of a series about people who have died in the coronavirus pandemic. Read about others here.
For nearly four decades, William R. Harris devoted his career to safeguarding his fellow citizens.
As an international lawyer and a sought-after consultant, he drafted treaties to prevent the proliferation of nuclear weapons and reduce the risk of accidental war. He modeled a framework for the government to continue functioning during a national catastrophe. He helped extend Daylight Saving Time to conserve fuel and focused officials on protecting the electrical grid from digital sabotage.
He practiced what he preached, too, making sure to get his first vaccination for the coronavirus in early February, as soon as he was eligible and the vaccine was available. He completed the regimen by the end of the month.
In late March, though, his family said, he received a jarring diagnosis: Covid-19. Mr. Harris also had chronic lymphocytic leukemia, and family members said that a few weeks after learning that he had Covid, he read an article in a scientific journal suggesting that the vaccine might not be fully effective for people with that type of leukemia.
The New York Times last month.
No vaccine is 100 percent effective, and some so-called breakthrough infections can be expected, even in healthy people who have been fully vaccinated. But those cases are rare. As of April 26, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported 9,245 breakthrough cases, out of 95 million fully vaccinated Americans; 132 people died.
In a eulogy on Facebook, Mr. Harris’s daughter Darcy R. Harris described him this way: “As an international lawyer and policy wonk, his work spanned arms control treaties and verification, energy policy, space law. He was a consummate researcher, an early adopter, an innovator. On top of that, he was always working for free and helping others out.”
Dr. William A. Horwitz and Dr. Henriette Klein, both of whom were professors of clinical psychiatry at Columbia University.
He attended the Dalton School in Manhattan and, after graduating from the Choate School, now Choate Rosemary Hall, in Wallingford, Conn., earned a bachelor’s degree in history from Harvard College in 1962 and a law degree from Harvard Law School in 1966.
In 1968, he married Elizabeth Jones. Along with his wife and their daughter Darcy, he is survived by another daughter, Rebecca Harris Deane; a son, William Proctor Harris; four grandchildren; and his sister, Susan Harris Molnar.
On an October evening five years ago, Elon Musk used a former set for “Desperate Housewives” to show off Tesla’s latest innovation: roof shingles that can generate electricity from the sun without unsightly solar panels.
After delays, Tesla began rolling out the shingles in a big way this year, but it is already encountering a major problem. The company is hitting some customers with price increases before installation that are tens of thousands of dollars higher than earlier quotes, angering early adopters and raising big questions about how Tesla, which is better known for its electric cars, is running its once dominant rooftop solar business.
Dr. Peter Quint was eager to install Tesla’s solar shingles on his 4,000-square-foot home in Portland, Ore., until the company raised the price to $112,000, from $75,000, in a terse email. When he called Tesla for an explanation, he was put on hold for more than three hours.
“I said, ‘This isn’t real, right?’” said Dr. Quint, whose specialty is pediatric critical care. “The price started inching up. We could deal with that. Then this. At that price, in our opinion, it’s highway robbery.”
slashing the price of panels in 2019 has done little to stem the slide.
At the “Housewives” set at Universal Studios in 2016, Mr. Musk, the company’s chief executive, promised that Tesla’s new shingles would turbocharge installations by attracting homeowners who found solar panels ugly. But shingles remain such a tiny segment of the solar market that few industry groups and analysts bother to track installations.
Tesla is not the only company to pursue the idea of embedding solar cells, which covert sunlight into electricity, in shingles. Dow Chemical, CertainTeed, Suntegra and Luma, among others, have offered similar products with limited success.
Tesla’s electric cars and SpaceX’s rockets, Tesla’s glass shingles attracted outsize attention. He promised that they would be much better than anything anybody else had come up with and come in a variety of styles so they could resemble asphalt, slate and Spanish barrel tiles to fit the aesthetic of each home.
solar ambitions date to 2015 when it announced that it would sell panels and home batteries alongside its electric cars. A year later, the company acquired SolarCity, a company run by Mr. Musk’s cousin Lyndon Rive. SolarCity was the leading rooftop solar installer in the United States, but in the last five years Tesla has fallen far behind Sunrun, which became even bigger last year after buying another installer, Vivint.
Tesla has been losing market share even as demand for rooftop solar has increased sharply as panels have become more affordable. In terms of energy-generating capacity, annual installations are about 13 times as great as they were a decade ago, according to the Solar Energy Industries Association.
battery system would cost $63,000. But two weeks before installers were scheduled to show up, an email from the company raised the price to $85,000.
She wanted the system to protect her family from losing electricity when her utility, Pacific Gas & Electric, shuts off power to prevent its equipment from setting off wildfires. She also hoped to lower her electricity bills, which have jumped from about $200 a month to as much as $400 in the four years since her family moved to California from New York.
She sought out Tesla’s shingles because contractors had told her that they could not attach conventional solar panels to her composite roof.
Tesla never offered an adequate explanation for the price change, Ms. Bianchi said, so she canceled the job: “It’s just outrageous.”
Richard Rhodes, the energy historian whose recent book, “Energy: A Human History,” recounts the technologies and innovation that transformed energy over centuries, said an Italian physicist, Cesare Marchetti, discovered a hard truth in the 1970s after studying thousands of energy transitions. It takes about 50 years for any new source of energy, be it coal or oil, natural gas or renewable power, to command just 10 percent of the global market. It takes another half century after that to reach 50 percent.
That, Mr. Rhodes said, held true despite wars, economic conditions and government interventions.
White House officials say the country can defy history with a variety of paths to achieve Mr. Biden’s goals, including reducing emissions from farms and city buildings. But two sectors loom large: electricity, where the president will need far more renewables, including advanced batteries to store power generated by solar panels and wind turbines; and transportation, where reliance almost exclusively on gasoline needs to shift to electricity.
Mr. Biden has proposed a carrot-heavy approach, spending on research and development, efficiency improvements in homes and schools, and the electric grid to better support renewable energy. As part of his infrastructure plans, he wants Congress to require electric utilities to shift toward lower-emission power sources.
Mr. Biden’s emissions target relies on electric power plants cutting their emissions sharply by 2030 and to net zero by 2035.
“Our analysis says we could get there by 2050,” said Nick Akins, chief executive of American Electric Power, an Ohio-based electric utility, but not 2035.
“If we move too quickly, we could jeopardize the reliability of the grid,” he added, pointing to the recent rolling blackouts in Texas
WASHINGTON — President Biden has repeatedly pledged to work with China on issues like climate change while challenging Beijing on human rights and unfair trade practices.
But those goals are now coming into conflict in the global solar sector, presenting the Biden administration with a tough choice as it looks to expand the use of solar power domestically to reduce the United States’ carbon dioxide emissions.
The dilemma stems from an uncomfortable reality: China dominates the global supply chain for solar power, producing the vast majority of the materials and parts for solar panels that the United States relies on for clean energy. And there is emerging evidence that some of China’s biggest solar companies have worked with the Chinese government to absorb minority workers in the far western region of Xinjiang, programs often seen as a red flag for potential forced labor and human rights abuses.
This week, Mr. Biden is inviting world leaders to a climate summit in Washington, where he is expected to unveil an ambitious plan for cutting America’s emissions over the next decade. The administration is already eyeing a goal of generating 100 percent of the nation’s electricity from carbon-free sources such as solar, wind or nuclear power by 2035, up from only 40 percent last year. To meet that target, the United States may need to more than double its annual pace of solar installations.
many of which are imported from Chinese-owned factories in Vietnam, Malaysia and Thailand.
China also supplies many of the key components in solar panels, including more than 80 percent of the world’s polysilicon, a raw material that most solar panels use to absorb energy from sunlight. Nearly half of the global supply comes from Xinjiang alone. In 2019, less than 5 percent of the world’s polysilicon came from U.S.-owned companies.
“It’s put the Democrats in a hard position,” said Francine Sullivan, the vice president for business development at REC Silicon, a polysilicon maker based in Norway with factories in the United States. “Do you want to stand up to human rights in China, or do you want cheap solar panels?”
The administration is increasingly under pressure from influential supporters not to turn a blind eye to potential human rights abuses in order to achieve its climate goals.
“As the U.S. seeks to address climate change, we must not allow the Chinese Communist Party to use forced labor to meet our nation’s needs,” Richard L. Trumka, the president of the A.F.L.-C.I.O., wrote in a letter on March 12 urging the Biden administration to block imports of solar products containing polysilicon from the Xinjiang region.
Xinjiang is now notorious as the site of a vast program of detention and surveillance that the Chinese government has carried out against Muslim Uyghurs and other minority groups. Human rights groups say the Chinese authorities may have detained a million or more minorities in camps and other sites where they face torture, indoctrination and coerced labor.
In a report last year, Horizon Advisory, a consultancy in Washington, cited Chinese news reports and government announcements suggesting that major Chinese solar companies including GCL-Poly, East Hope Group, Daqo New Energy, Xinte Energy and Jinko Solar had accepted workers transferred with the help of the Chinese government from impoverished parts of Xinjiang.
Jinko Solar denied those allegations, as did the Chinese government. Zhang Longgen, a vice chairman of Xinjiang Daqo — a unit of one of the companies cited by Horizon Advisory — said that the polysilicon plants were not labor intensive, and that the company’s workers were freely employed and could quit if they wanted, according to Global Times, a Chinese Communist Party-owned newspaper. The report said that only 18 of the 1,934 workers at Xinjiang Daqo belonged to ethnic minorities, and that none were Uyghur.
a sweeping ban on cotton and tomatoes from the region. Those restrictions have forced a reorganization of global supply chains, especially in the apparel sector.
The Biden administration has said it is still reviewing the Trump administration’s policies, and it has not yet signaled whether it will pursue other bans on products or companies. But both Mr. Biden and his advisers have insisted that the United States plans to confront China on human rights abuses in Xinjiang.
A spokeswoman for the National Security Council said that the draconian treatment of Uyghurs “cannot be ignored,” and that the administration was “studying ways to effectively ensure that we are not importing products made from forced labor,” including solar products.
a pledge of 236 companies to oppose forced labor and encouraged companies to sever any ties with Xinjiang by June.
Some Chinese companies have responded by reshuffling their supply chains, funneling polysilicon and other solar products they manufacture outside Xinjiang to American buyers, and then directing their Xinjiang-made products to China and other markets.
Analysts say this kind of reorganization is, in theory, feasible. About 35 percent of the world’s polysilicon comes from regions in China other than Xinjiang, while the United States and the European Union together make up around 30 percent of global solar panel demand, according to Johannes Bernreuter, a polysilicon market analyst at Bernreuter Research.
John Smirnow, the general counsel for the Solar Energy Industries Association, said most solar companies were already well on their way toward extricating supply chains from Xinjiang.
also been reported in Chinese facilities outside Xinjiang where Uyghurs and other minorities have been transferred to work. And restrictions on products from Xinjiang could spread to markets including Canada, Britain and Australia, which are debating new rules and guidelines.
Human rights advocates have argued that allowing Chinese companies to cleave their supply chains to serve American and non-American buyers may do little to improve conditions in Xinjiang and have pressed the Biden administration for stronger action.
“The message has to be clear to the Chinese government that this economic model is not going to be supported by governments or businesses,” said Cathy Feingold, the director of the A.F.L.-C.I.O.’s International Department.
Chinese companies are also facing pressure from Beijing not to accede to American demands, since that could be seen as a tacit criticism of the government’s activities in Xinjiang.
In a statement in January, the China Photovoltaic Industry Association and China Nonferrous Metals Industry Association condemned “irresponsible statements” from U.S. industries, which they said were directed at curbing Xinjiang’s development and “meddling in Chinese domestic affairs.”
“It is widely known that the ‘forced labor’ issue is in its entirety the lie of the century that the United States and certain other Western countries have concocted from nothing,” they said.
mothballed a new $1.2 billion facility in Tennessee in 2014, while REC Silicon shut its polysilicon facility in Washington in 2019.
China has promised to carry out large purchases of American polysilicon as part of a trade deal signed last year, but those transactions have not materialized.
In the near term, tensions over Xinjiang could be a boon for the few remaining U.S. suppliers. Ms. Sullivan said some small U.S. solar developers had reached out to REC Silicon in recent months to inquire about non-Chinese products.
But American companies need the promise of reliable, long-term orders to scale up, she said, adding that when she explains the limited supply of solar products that do not touch China, people become “visibly ill.”
“This is the big lesson,” Ms. Sullivan added. “You become dependent on China, and what does it mean? We have to swallow our values in order to do solar.”
The pandemic abruptly slowed the global march of coal. But demand for the world’s dirtiest fuel is forecast to soar this year, gravely undermining the chances of staving off the worst effects of global warming.
Burning coal is the largest source of carbon dioxide emissions, and, after a pandemic-year retreat, demand for coal is set to rise by 4.5 percent this year, mainly to meet soaring electricity demand, according to data published Tuesday by the International Energy Agency, just two days before a White House-hosted virtual summit aimed at rallying global climate action.
“This is a dire warning that the economic recovery from the Covid crisis is currently anything but sustainable for our climate,” Fatih Birol, the head of the agency, said in a statement.
dropped to its lowest level in a decade in 2019. And, over the last 20 years, more coal-fired power plants have been retired or shelved than commissioned. The big holdouts are China, India and parts of Southeast Asia, but, even there, coal’s once-swift growth is nowhere as swift as it was just a few years ago, according to a recent analysis.
In some countries where new coal-fired power plants were only recently being built by the gigawatts, plans for new ones have been shelved, as in South Africa, or reconsidered, as in Bangladesh, or facing funding troubles, as in Vietnam. In some countries, like India, existing coal plants are running way below capacity and losing money. In others, like the United States, they are being decommissioned faster than ever.
where coal use is growing, the pace of growth is slowing.
In South Africa, after years of lawsuits, plans to build a coal-fired power station in Limpopo Province were canceled last November.
In Kenya, a proposed coal plant has languished for years because of litigation. In Egypt, a planned coal plant is indefinitely postponed. In Bangladesh, Chinese-backed projects are among 15 planned coal plants that the government in Dhaka is reviewing, with an eye to canceling them altogether.
Pakistan, saddled by debts, announced a vague moratorium on new coal projects. Vietnam, which is still expanding its coal fleet, scaled back plans for new plants. The Philippines, under pressure from citizens’ groups, hit the pause button on new projects.
“Broadly speaking, there’s growing opposition against coal and a lot more scrutiny right now,” said Daine Loh, a Southeast Asia power sector energy specialist at Fitch Solutions, an industry analysis firm. “It’s a trend — moving away from coal. It’s very gradual.”
Money is part of the problem. Development banks are shying away from coal. Japan and Korea, two major financiers of coal, have tightened restrictions on new coal projects. Japan is still building coal plants at home, rare among industrialized countries, though Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga said in October that his country would aspire to draw down its emissions to net-zero by 2050.
Australia continue to mine their abundant coal deposits. Perhaps most oddly, Britain, which is hosting the next international climate talks, is opening a new coal mine.
And then there are the world’s biggest coal consumers, China and India.
China’s economy rebounded in 2020. Government stimulus measures encouraged the production of steel, cement and other industrial products that eat up energy. Coal demand rose. The capacity of China’s fleet of coal-fired power plants grew by a whopping 38 gigawatts in 2020, making up the vast majority of new coal projects worldwide and offsetting nearly the same amount of coal capacity that was retired worldwide. (One gigawatt is enough to power a medium-sized city.)
Coal’s future in China is at the center of a robust debate in the country, with prominent policy advisers pressing for a near-moratorium on new coal plants and state-owned companies insisting that China needs to burn more coal for years to come.
to remain open, and it is seeking private investors to mine coal. If India’s economy recovers this year, its coal demand is set to rise by 9 percent, according to the I.E.A.
But even India’s coal fleet isn’t growing as fast as it was just a few years ago. On paper, India plans to add some 60 gigawatts of coal power capacity by 2026, but given how many existing plants are operating at barely half capacity, it’s unclear how many new ones will ultimately be built. A handful of state politicians have publicly opposed new coal-fired power plants in their states.
How much more coal India needs to burn, said Ritu Mathur, an economist at The Energy & Resources Institute in New Delhi, depends on how fast its electricity demand grows — and it could grow very fast if India pushes electric vehicles. “To say we can do away with coal, or that renewables can meet all our demand,” Dr. Mathur said, “is not the story.”
nearly one-fourth of all energy worldwide.
Its proponents argue that gas, which is less polluting than coal, should be promoted in energy-hungry countries that cannot afford a rapid scale-up of renewable energy. Its critics say multibillion dollar investments in gas projects risk becoming stranded assets, like coal-fired power plants already are in some countries; they add that methane emissions from the combustion of gas are incompatible with the Paris Agreement goal of slowing down climate change.
in Vietnam. Gas demand is growing sharply in Bangladesh, as the government looks to shift away from coal to meet its galloping energy needs. Ghana this year became the first country in sub-Saharan Africa to import liquefied natural gas. And the U.S. Agency for International Development has been promoting gas as a way to electrify homes and businesses across Africa.
And there’s the rub for the Biden administration: While it has set out to be a global climate leader, it has not yet explained its policy on advancing gas exports — particularly on the use of public funds to build gas infrastructure abroad.
“There’s fairly strong consensus around coal. The big question is around gas,” said Manish Bapna, acting president of the World Resources Institute. “The broader climate community is starting to think about what a gas transition looks like.”
Julfikar Ali Manik and Hiroko Tabuchi contributed reporting.
As concerns about climate change push the world economy toward a lower-carbon future, investing in oil may seem a risky bet. For the long term, that may be true.
Yet for the moment, at least, oil and gas prices appear likely to continue to rise as the economy recovers from the pandemic-driven shutdown of millions of businesses, big and small.
These countervailing trends — increasing demand now and falling demand at some point, perhaps in the not-too-distant future — create a dilemma for investors.
The good news is that an array of traditional mutual funds and exchange-traded funds are available to help them navigate these uncertain waters. Some funds focus on slices of the industry, such as extracting crude oil and gas from the ground or delivering refined products to consumers. Others focus on so-called integrated companies that do it all. Some spice their holdings with some exposure to wind, solar or other alternative energy sources.
International Energy Agency forecast that oil consumption was not likely to return to prepandemic levels in developed economies.
“World oil markets are rebalancing after the Covid-19 crisis spurred an unprecedented collapse in demand in 2020, but they may never return to ‘normal,’” the I.E.A. said in its “Oil 2021” report. “Rapid changes in behavior from the pandemic and a stronger drive by governments toward a low-carbon future have caused a dramatic downward shift in expectations for oil demand over the next six years.”
alternative energy funds. Many enable investors to zero in on discrete segments of the industry.
The biggest holdings of the Invesco WilderHill Clean Energy E.T.F. are producers of raw materials for solar cells and rechargeable batteries or builders and operators of large-scale solar projects. The $2.9 billion fund yields 0.49 percent and has an expense ratio of 0.7 percent.
The First Trust NASDAQ Clean Edge Green Energy Index Fund focuses on applied green technology. Its biggest holdings are Tesla, the American maker of electric automobiles; NIO, a Chinese rival in that field; and Plug Power, which makes hydrogen fuel cells for vehicles. Also a $2.9 billion fund, it yields 0.24 percent and has an expense ratio of 0.6 percent.
The First Trust Global Wind Energy E.T.F., as its name suggests, targets wind turbine manufacturers and servicers, led by the Spanish-German joint venture Siemens Gamesa Renewable Energy and Vestas Wind Systems of Denmark, as well as operators such as Northland Power of Canada. This $423 million fund yields 0.92 percent and has an expense ratio of 0.61 percent.
Sergio Rodriguez, a consultant from St. Marys, Ga., who owns a Tesla Model X, recently drove a Mach E across the country. Mr. Rodriguez said he planned to keep his Model X, despite some serious quality issues and slow responses by Tesla that he has described in YouTube videos and on electric vehicle websites.
“I still love the Model X. In terms of performance, you want a thrill,” he said. “But you have to accept that it has a lot of imperfections. The Mach E is definitely built with quality, and it’s cool. You can’t help but look when it drives by.”
Last month, Ford sold 3,739 Mach E’s, a tiny number compared with the tens of thousands of pickup trucks the company sells every month but respectable for an electric car. This month, Volkswagen is scheduled to begin delivering its electric S.U.V., the ID.4, in the United States. General Motors recently updated its electric compact, the Chevrolet Bolt, and introduced a larger, higher-riding version of the car.
Whatever the competition brings, Tesla has enough cash on hand to finance its operations for some time. It took advantage of its soaring stock price last year by selling more than $12 billion of new stock to investors, and had more than $19 billion in cash at the end of 2020. Tesla spent $1.5 billion on Bitcoin early this year, and even if the company takes big losses on that wager, it will still have significant cash on hand.
The company, which did not respond to a request for comment, has come a long way from the dark days of 2018 and 2019, when some analysts wondered if it would survive as an independent business. Mr. Musk was struggling with increasing the production of Tesla’s most affordable car, the Model 3, and described the company’s problems as “manufacturing hell.”
Despite the recent drop, Tesla’s stock price is still up over 300 percent over the past 12 months. And its market value is more than the combined market capitalization of Toyota Motor, Volkswagen, Daimler, G.M. and Ford — companies that sell many more cars than Tesla.
Of course, any time a company is valued at many times its peers, it can be vulnerable to a sell-off if investors begin to have even small doubts. Even after the stock plunged from its high, Wall Street is extremely optimistic about Tesla. The stock trades at 144 times the profit that analysts expect the company to earn this year, a stratospheric valuation. Much hope in the market is placed on Tesla’s having a big slice of a much larger market for electric vehicles, which is why analysts expect the company’s profits to more than double by the end of 2025.