Cheap Solar Panels Are Causing Economic Harm, ITC SaysDavid Wagman | September 22, 2017
The U.S. International Trade Commission voted 4-0 on September 22 to find that imports of solar panels have injured domestic solar manufacturers. The decision could lead to a tariff decision for President Trump.
The ITC sided with two financially U.S. manufacturers who blamed low-cost Chinese solar module imports for their financial troubles. Suniva and SolarWorld propose a tariff of $0.40/watt on imported solar cells and a floor price of $0.78/watt on imported modules.
The ITC has until November to make formal recommendations to the White House. Trump then has two months to decide on a final policy. Tariff opponents say a proposed tariff could endanger 88,000 jobs and put at risk two-thirds of utility-scale solar projects set to come online in the next five years.
The installed cost of solar power fell to record lows in the first quarter of 2017 because of the continuing decline in photovoltaic (PV) module and inverter prices, higher module efficiency and lower labor costs, according to an analysis by the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL).
While utility-scale solar costs have declined nearly 30 percent, residential and commercial-scale solar system prices have lagged behind at six and 15 percent reductions, respectively, according to a new report, “The U.S. Solar Photovoltaic System Cost Benchmark: Q1 2017.”
The report shows that the levelized cost of electricity (LCOE) benchmarks without subsidies for the first quarter of 2017 fell to between 12.9 and 16.7 cents per kilowatt-hour (kWh) for residential systems, 9.2-12.0 cents a kWh for commercial systems, 5.0-6.6 cents a kWh for utility-scale fixed-tilt systems, and 4.4-6.1 cents a kWh for utility-scale one-axis tracking systems.
The report estimates that the total installed system cost, which is one of the primary inputs used to compute LCOE, has declined to $2.80 per direct current watts (Wdc) for residential systems, $1.85 Wdc for commercial, $1.03 Wdc for fixed-tilt utility-scale systems and $1.11 Wdc for one-axis tracking utility-scale systems.
Bloomberg reports that the ITC’s decision could disrupt the $29 billion U.S. solar industry. More expensive prices for cells and panels would crimp demand for solar projects. Even before the ITC vote, Bloomberg says that some developers had stopped construction and begun hoarding supplies, anticipating that tariffs could double the price of imported components.
Most of the U.S. solar industry, which uses the cheap panels for rooftop or utility-scale projects, opposes the effort, according to the news agency. The industry argues that inexpensive imports have driven a boom in U.S. solar projects and tens of thousands of jobs hang in the balance. Abigail Ross Hopper, president of the Solar Energy Industries Association, was quoted as calling it an “ill-conceived case” driven by creditors wanting to recover some of their investments “in poorly run companies.”