This past October the United States International Trade Commission (ITC) made recommendations to impose tariffs on silicon-based solar panels, in addition to establishing a licensing fee on some solar equipment. By making their recommendations the ITC has essentially confirmed ongoing claims that unregulated imports have damaged the commercial viability of US manufacturing of solar panels .
The ITC’s recommendations have been sent to President Trump, who has until January 12th to make a decision on whether to approve or deny these potential new solar import tariffs. By approving the tariffs and licensing fees it would strike a blow against Chinese manufacturers, who have been systematically undercutting the price point of domestic solar panels on an on-going basis. However, it could also negatively affect the incredibly fast-growing solar energy industry by increasing prices and thereby deterring new customers from installing solar panels..
If approved the new import taxes could affect domestic solar installation company’s ability to source solar panels and will in all likelihood increase the overall cost of purchasing a solar energy system. By adding a solar panel tariff it would likely increase the overall cost per watt, which some industry experts have estimated could be an increase of 10 to 15 cents per watt. .
The issue was brought to the ITC earlier this year by two domestic solar panel manufacturers (Suniva and SolarWorld), both of whom claimed the flood of solar panel imports from China at reduced pricing forced them into bankruptcy. The response to the ITC’s recommendations has been a swift backlash from US green energy industries, who believe that while this will certainly help domestic panel manufacturing, it will overall have a negative effect on the solar industry. The argument being made is that by driving down the overall cost of solar through imported panels, it incentivizes consumers to purchase a solar system by making it available at the lowest possible price. This in turn leads to more solar systems being purchased and installed and a vast increase in adopting solar energy technologies, which opponents of the tariffs believe far exceed the growth potential of domestic solar panel manufacturing..
Even if approved by President Trump the proposed tariffs are unlikely to have an immediate effect on current solar energy pricing for US consumers, as there are still a variety of competitively-priced panels available domestically and throughout Europe. While there may be some uncertainty moving forward in the domestic solar manufacturing industry, the future and low-price of domestic solar is still as promising as ever.