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Chinese Solar Imports Face Increasing Tariffs

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.

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Yesterday, the U.S. Department of Commerce announced that the government will be increasing the tariffs on solar panels imported from China. All Chinese solar imports will now face tariffs of up to 4.73 percent, depending on the specific panel manufacturer. All but two Chinese solar manufacturers will face a 3.59% tariff. Trina Solar and Suntech will have slightly different tariffs of 4.73% and 2.9%, respectively. (Note that these values are preliminary and could be revised before they come into effect later this year)

These tariffs were developed in response to concerns regarding Chinese solar manufacturer trade practices – specifically, the fact that Chinese solar manufacturers appear to have been dumping illegally subsidized PV panels into U.S. markets. As a result, U.S. solar companies – like the now infamous Solyndra – were unable to take a piece of the domestic market. (read more here). Last year, Chinese solar panels represented more than 50% (or about $2 billion) of the U.S. solar market while domestic manufacturers made up about one-third of overall sales.

While there is seemingly widespread support of these tariffs among U.S. solar manufacturers, there are also many critics. Generally, these critics believe that the tariffs will be bad for growth in U.S. solar generation capacity. Some have argued that low prices for solar, regardless of the source, should be encouraged and capitalized upon (in the form of increasing total installed solar capacity). And so, any cheap capacity should be welcomed into U.S. markets – if the Chinese government wants to subsidize a product that the U.S. wants to buy, that’s just fine. Other critics believe that the maximum 4.73% tariff will not be enough to achieve the stated goal of increasing U.S. domestic manufacturing market share. Therefore, it will only hurt the U.S. by decreasing the total amount of new solar PV capacity being installed.

But, good or bad, it appears that import tariffs on Chinese solar are on the rise.

Photo Credit:

1. Photo of solar panel by Andreas Demmelbauer and used under this Creative Commons License.

Melissa C. Lott About the Author: An engineer and researcher who works at the intersection of energy, environment, technology, and policy. Follow on Twitter @mclott.

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.

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  1. 1. Bongobimbo 9:23 am 03/23/2012

    I was co-editor of ALTERNATIVE SOURCES OF ENERGY magazine and edited the magazine’s compilation book published by Seabury Press in 1974, during the time when Nixon’s administration was starting on the long dreary road of wrecking well-paid, unionized U.S. manufacturing which fueled our (then) solidly middle-class society. Afterward I was V-P of a renewable energy + environmental + community development consulting firm.
    Why “community development”? We focused on jobs. Especially after Reagan’s crowd got in, an atmosphere hostile to U.S. factory workers spread its tentacles from Washington through the nation, and it now pollutes the entire country via the mass media, anti-Constitutional court decisions, and the stupidest Congress since just before the Civil War–although it’s been spreading for 40 years, since ALEC began its conspiracies, whether the party in power was/is Republican or Democrat. Reagan’s team, with ALEC’S help of course, made sure that renewable power sources were ignored and fossil fuels subsidized, while busting unions into powerlessness and sending our former jobs overseas. Year after year more people were “downsized” and “outsourced”. U.S. “owned” manufacturing was captured by the multinationals and financial paper-pushers, often the same people and frequently foreigners–the downsizers and outsourcers who made their money from cartelization, exploiting foreign low-paid labor, and federal welfare doles into their bank accounts.
    No wonder we are in a dilemma of “buy solar panels from China–cheap” or “pay more to make them in the U.S.” The differential could be met by federal subsidies to U.S. solar companies, but not with Tea Partiers in public office. The Tea Partiers can be send to the breadlines in November, but if we are to restore homeland manufacturing in ANY branch of technology we’ll still need years of intelligent, dedicated and concentrated effort on behalf of solar energy, with federal incentives as powerful as those now freely doled out to the fossil fuel power bosses for their obscene CEO bonuses. Too many Americans have been distracted and brainwashed by TV anti-news and talk radio into fatalism, and if they complain about the U.S. as a Third World country it’s for the wrong reasons, based on lies that serve the ones who own the rest of us. I’m not sure we have the will to come back as a manufacturing power, or as a faithful democratic republic that educates its children and promotes human reason over myth. I sure haven’t noticed any serious efforts to expand renewables except among a few public-philosopher environmentalists and the OCCUPY folks’ technology committees. There CAN’T be much but empty talk until the government shakes off the fossil fuel privateers who pay it, and its own love affair with nukes.

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  2. 2. bucketofsquid 3:25 pm 03/26/2012

    @Bongobimbo – What an amazing paranoid rant. Manufacturing outsourcing and globalization are natural processes that have occurred periodically through out history in various forms. The simple fact is that after WW2 the USA was the only intact industrial power in the world. That made us rich. As always happens, the other nations of the world began to try to catch up and now we have gone from 50% of the global economy to less than 20% of the global economy. The simple fact is that this trend will continue without regard to what we do.

    Renewable energy will never be able to compete with fossil fuels until such time as we have viable energy storage to save power generated for use in nonproductive times. That is the real hold-up on a wide adoption of solar and wind energy. Until that gets corrected nothing will change.

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