Solar Wars

Solar wars might not be terribly riveting to the average American, but it’s definitely something solar manufacturers and installers are keeping tabs on.

An invasion of inexpensive solar panel imports from China are sparking mixed reviews from the U.S. solar industry. On the one hand, parts of the industry say the cheap panels are creating a solar boom in the states. On the other hand, panel manufacturers are concerned because its hurting their businesses, and want a tariff attached to the imports.

SolarWorld’s Gordon Brisner argues that China’s threatening SolarWorld’s underlying principles, “to build products here in America, for America’s community, for America’s energy independence, and really leave the world a better place.”

By flooding the market with cheap panels, Brisner argues it’s contributed to the collapse of some U.S manufacturers. Brisner has petitioned the U.S. Department of Commerce and the International Trade Commission to tie tariffs to Chinese panels to level the playing field.

Though most people agree that American panel manufacturers have indeed been harmed by Chinese imports, it remains to be seen whether or not there’s any illegal activity occurring–in which case a tariff would be justified. “Dumping” refers to a foreign producer selling a product in the U.S. at a price that is lower than the cost of production, or subsidizing panel manufacturers so they can sell below the average price.

A tariff would indeed rise the price of solar, causing concern with the Coalition for Affordable Solar Energy  (CASE) who says higher prices will hurt solar installers–whose numbers outweigh the number of U.S. manufacturers.

Kevin Lapidus vice president of SunEdison and worker at CASE argues that we’ve just gotten to the point where solar’s reputation of being too pricey for regular people is being let go, and imposing a tariff will set the industry back by years.

Though some people who go solar are interested in buying American made (like SolarWorld), most are just looking for the best price. With Chinese panels running about 10% cheaper, they’re a popular choice.

Imposing a tariff could come with potential consequences, a trade war with China, higher panel prices hurting installers, a ripple effect throughout the solar industry if there are less installations. But is establishing a “made in America” industry worth it?

A big push behind solar energy (and renewable energy in general), is not only to be less fossil fuel intensive, but to stop importing foreign oil. Establish energy independence.

Of course, I think some solar is better than no solar regardless of where it comes from, but aren’t we contradicting ourselves a bit if our aims are to achieve energy independence if we’re importing solar panels from a foreign country? Would it be worth it to pay a slightly higher price for solar panels if it meant keeping jobs and manufacturing at home instead of abroad, if it meant actually achieving energy independence instead of shifting our dependence to another country?

Over the next few months, the federal government will decide if China is playing by the rules, or if a tariff on Chinese panels should be imposed.

 

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5 thoughts on “Solar Wars

  1. It’s a sticky wicket to be sure. The problem is that we really don’t make things like we used to 50 years ago. So the question is are we going to roll over to the Chinese, or are we going to look at the big picture?

  2. Tough issue. I feel like the biggest issue by multitudes is price, that millions and millions more people would install panels if they were more affordable.

    A friend just had panels installed on his small two-bed, two-bath rambler for $40,000. My house is much bigger than my friends, so you know that an installation for me would be much more expensive.

    Sure there are some state rebates, a 30% federal tax credit, and low-interest financing (if you can qualify), but it’s still WAY out of the realm of possibility for a lot of home owners.

    As for the quality of Chinese panels, well, I hadn’t even thought of that, which makes me realize a flaw in how I have been thinking about the technology. Not only does it need to be affordable to purchase and install, but the technology needs to last and repairs need to be affordable as well.

    • Your friend must have one heck of an electric bill! 😉

      But in all seriousness…price is a huge factor and I think will play a big role in deciding whether or not we put a tariff on Chinese panels or continue along business as usual. It is indeed a tough issue, ideally we could strike some sort of balance where both Chinese and American manufacturers could produce competitively without fear of one market or the other suffering.

  3. Pingback: Financial Innovations and Falling Prices Lead to Solar Growth | Knowles Solar

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