By - Jim Vess

Solar cell imports to the U.S. rebound from tariffs in the first quarter of 2019

Energize Weekly, August 21, 2019

Imports of silicon solar cells and modules rebounded in the first quarter of 2019 after a sharp drop when the Trump administration announced it would impose tariffs on them in January 2018.

Photovoltaic (PV) module imports averaged 644,000 kilowatts (kW) a month in the first quarter of 2019, about 16 percent more than the average imports in the first four months of 2017, before the trade case that ultimately led to the tariffs was filed, the federal Energy Information Administration (EIA) said.

Imports hit a peak of slightly more than 800,000 kW this past February. In mid-2017, imports reached almost 1,200,000 kW a month, and developers imported large quantities of cells in modules in advance of the tariff ruling.

After the mid-2017 peak, solar PV imports began to fall, reaching a low of 300,000 kW in the months after the tariff went into force in February 2019.

In the third quarter 2018, solar installations were down 15 percent year-over-year, with utility-scale projects, which can use 1 gigawatt of cells or more, especially sensitive to the price increase.

The tariffs were a result of a complaint filed by two domestic solar panel makers – Suniva and SolarWorld – with the U.S. International Trade Commission (ITC). The ITC investigation began in May 2017 and found that the two were hurt by foreign imports.

The Trump administration employed a little-used section of trade law to impose the sanctions.

The administration placed a 30 percent tariff on imported PV solar cells and modules with the tariff stepping down 5 percent a year to 15 percent in 2021. The first 2.5 gigawatts of imports were exempt from the tariff each year, as well as imports from some developing nations.

The tariffs added $236.5 million to U.S. solar projects in 2018, according to solar marketer EnergySage Marketplace.

On an average 6-kilowatt residential solar installation, the added cost was about 16 cents a watt or $960, EnergySage, which runs a web-based comparison-shopping market, said.

“Continued decline in the cost of solar PV modules may have offset some of the effects of the solar tariffs,” the EIA said.

The global average spot prices, without the tariffs, for monocrystalline and multicrystalline modules, not including any tariffs, declined 27 percent and 26 percent, respectively, from December 2017 to July 2018.

Since mid-2018, PV module prices have been relatively stable, according to data from Bloomberg New Energy Finance.

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