New Duties on Chinese Solar Products Boost the U.S. Solar Manufacturing Industry

solar battle

The battle over imported solar panels has finally been decided in favor of the US solar industry. Image courtesy of Robert Bell (http://spartandude.smugmug.com)

Earlier this month the United States International Trade Commission gave final approval on duties of billions in solar-energy products from China.  U.S. solar producers will be protected against unreasonably low priced Chinese imports for the next five years.  The inexpensive solar panels which have poured in from China have literally put solar manufacturing companies out of business.  The new duties that will now be imposed on solar imports give US solar energy companies such as Helios in Wisconsin a nice boost.

Not only U.S. producers but also European solar producers make the point that the rapid expansion of Chinese solar panel manufacturing destroyed profits and crippled share prices due to massive oversupply.  The case against China which was filed by a group of solar manufacturers in the U.S. has had the desired outcome.  Double and triple-digit duties on Chinese imports are now being imposed.  For example, the world’s largest solar panel producer, Suntech of China, now has combined duties of approximately 36 percent.

China clearly cheated not only where solar panel manufacturing is concerned but also in other industries in past decades, costing millions of U.S. jobs.  And they aren’t happy with these new duties, which penalize their actions.  An area of possible retaliation is that China is investigating U.S. imports of solar-grade polysilicon, threatening the possibility of imposing crippling duties.

Whatever retaliations may occur, the solar manufacturing industry in the United States is likely going to come out a big winner.

U.S. imports of China’s illegally subsidized and dumped solar panels are now rapidly decreasing.  In September of 2011, solar panels imported from China totaled $249.7 million as opposed to $112.7 million in September of 2012. This is a 55% drop in imported Chinese solar panels in just one year.

chinese solar

With less foreign competition saturating the US solar market, American solar is back on track.

Obviously, with fewer Chinese solar products saturating the market, U.S. solar manufacturers are placed in a better position to stay in the black.  In fact, many are of the opinion that the unfair practices of China are the cause of the massive failure of such companies as Solyndra.  There have been at least 12 solar American solar manufacturers which have either been downsized with significant job losses or have been forced to shut down altogether.

Helios USA LLC of Wisconsin is one manufacturing company which will no doubt benefit now that the playing field has been leveled.  Helios is the first manufacturer of high-performance solar modules in Wisconsin; the modules are used in residential, industrial, commercial, and utility-based solar electric systems.

At Helios, robotics is used along with skilled workers to complete the complex process of building solar modules.  The company’s goal is to create 50 additional permanent quality jobs, and that goal is more a possibility today than ever.  Helios produces products which can be expected to last for decades after installation, which is typical of solar systems produced in the U.S.

With the unfair trade practices of the Chinese in check, solar manufacturers in America can enjoy industry stability as they work to aid homeowners and businesses in their switch to clean energy.

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Deep Tariffs on Chinese Solar Cells

 Are Tariffs of 31% on Solar Cells Imported from China Good or Bad for the U.S.?

One of North American Solar Stores suppliers of Solar Modules is Milwaukee based manufacturer Helios USA, LLC.

One of North American Solar Stores suppliers of Solar Modules is Milwaukee based manufacturer Helios USA, LLC.

It depends on who you ask, whether the decision of the U.S. Department of Commerce to impose tariffs of approximately 31% on the import of Chinese solar cells is going to be a good or a bad thing for the U.S.  Many worry that our solar jobs will be lost if this pronouncement is made official, as expected; and that some of the progress made in the solar industry spurred on by Chinese solar cells flooding the market and lowering prices will be slowed.  The other side of the coin is that U.S. manufacturers of solar panels will be on a competitive field that’s more fair and balanced; although costs of solar panels may rise now, the long-term benefit to North America may outweigh the temporary bump in along the road to solar parity. Increased domestic demand should allow more efficiencies of scale for U.S. manufacturers and as they grow production capability a leveling out of prices is expected.

This entire complicated discussion revolves around accusations made by several solar panel manufacturers in the U.S.A. that China is guilty of illegally dumping underpriced solar panels into America’s market.

chinese solar, solar panels

China's Suntech is the world's largest producer of Solar PV cells.

Another valid point to this argument is that China’s unfair trade policies really do put domestic manufacturers at a distinct disadvantage.  The Alliance for American Manufacturing (AAM) has been consistent with efforts to hold China accountable for every instance in which products are dumped into the U.S. market by subsidizing production, which is a violation of trade agreements.

Benefiting from the cheap solar panels from China has been a boon to the solar industry, but is the compromise worth it?  Some would say yes!  Transitioning from energy supplied by dirty fossil fuels to clean energy has been an uphill climb all the way, arguably because of the powerful influence on Washington of the oil-based industries.  This window of opportunity supplied by inexpensive Chinese panels to push solar progress along in the U.S.A. has borne much fruit.

If these tariffs are imposed on China, retaliation is expected to affect other markets, such as polysilicon exports.  In fact, most points of view on this matter make a strong argument that Washington should not rush into a validation of the accusation that Chinese manufacturers of solar panels are indeed guilty of dumping low-priced solar panels into our market.  The possible backlash could very well affect America’s already dismal unemployment numbers.

chinese solar

Suntech workers may find homes in other countries to beat the U.S Tariff.

Experts have already determined that China can take various strategies in order to bypass import tariffs.  They can set up cell manufacturing plants in other countries, such as Taiwan or Mexico.  They can also, for instance, use Taiwan-based suppliers to create cells rather than just wafers and then assemble the solar modules in China.  It’s estimated that tolling cells to the firms in Taiwan would increase the cost for China by 6% to 12%, which is a far less damaging hit than the new U.S. tariffs.  But even if China takes this type of strategy, chances are they will also impose retaliatory actions which harm U.S. jobs.

The verdict on this decision is still out and the end result of the tariff is yet to be determined. Forces on both sides of the argument have valid concerns. One thing is for sure – as the price of fossil-fuel based energy increases, the appeal of alternative sources like solar energy is sure to increase too. We all remember how much those big, flat-screen tv’s cost just a few years ago and now the costs have decreased because of increased demand. At NASS, we believe that consumer demand for cleaner energy solutions like solar power will continue to drive the increase in roof top solar installations.

 Although many of our NASS member Solar Stores offer imported choices for solar energy components and solar equipment, we also seek out the best U.S. and Canadian sources for solar cells, solar panels and solar inverters for our customers. One U.S. manufacturer that we are especially proud to partner with with is Milwaukee based solar panel manufacturer Helios USA, LLC.
Please consider one of our Solar Store Locations when you decide it is time to “Go Solar” and say good-bye to the ever-increasing utility bills that homeowners and small business owners are subject to.

US Locations – Springdale, AR 72762 l Wilton, CT – 06897 l Dover, DE – 19904 l Dubuque, IA – 52002 l Wauconda, IL – 60084 l Warsaw, IN 46580 l Erlanger, KY 41018 l Barre, MA – 01005 l Duluth, MN – 55803 l Hamilton, NJ 08619 l Bohemia, NY 11716 l Plattsburgh, NY 12901 l Canton, OH – 44720 l Eugene, OR 97402 l Kingsley, PA – 18826 l Manchester, VT – 05255 l White River Junction, VT – 05001 l Baraboo, WI – 53913 l Burlington, WI – 53105 Highland, WI – 53543 l Madison, WI – 53711
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