Chinese competition forcing green businesses to close doors

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — A new study by the Solar Energy Association released Wednesday states solar power in the U.S. doubled last year, and could be 10 percent of the country’s total power supply by 2020.

But that demand has created competition that could be hurting businesses in Charlotte. One local business, praised by President Barack Obama as a groundbreaking company, has closed its doors.

Sencera was touted as one of the companies helping to make Charlotte a green industry hub.

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The company’s CEO said Wednesday that competition from China forced him to close the business and lay off 20 employees. The once-bustling manufacturing plant now sits empty, and the CEO said he could not match the price of cheaper solar panels from China.

Sencera panels were costing $3 per watt to be produced. Chinese companies were able to make similar panels for just 85 cents per watt.

Solar panel installer Tim Munson said customers want the cheapest deal they can get, unless American products are required, such as a taxpayer-funded grant.

Munson’s solar panel installation business will double this year, but 80 percent will use Chinese-made panels, he said.

“The potential is there for some local manufacturers to compete, but it’s going to be a struggle,” he said.

But owners of a new company in Charlotte, Jetion Solar, do not think Charlotte’s green industry is over yet.

Manager Francis Tai said Chinese-owned Jetion will import cheaper materials from China, but everything else used to assemble the solar panels is bought in the U.S.

“We plan to outsource the aluminum, the caulking material, the wiring harness and packaging,” Tai said.

He said it would help keep that money in the Charlotte area.

Jetion expects to hire 17 people in the next month to operate the equipment. If things go well, the company could double that number by the end of the year, Tai said.

Sencera sold off all of its equipment in an attempt to switch over to a new type of panel that is still in development.