No Easy Answers Yet


Last January's Sun Dial column posed a series of vital questions that the industry hoped to see answered over the course of the year.

At the time, we promised to revisit all of these questions in January 2013 as a follow-up to this ‘state of the solar market’ assessment, but – not too surprisingly – the vast majority remain unanswerable.

‘What about the Chinese tariffs?’ is one big question that has been answered – sort of. Tariffs are, in fact, being applied to Chinese solar products, though the effect on module purchases is debatable. Coalition for American Solar Manufacturing ringleader SolarWorld recently said that Chinese solar imports have ‘plummeted.’

Citing merchandise data from U.S. Census Bureau, the company noted that Chinese imports totaled $75 million in October 2012 – down from $112.7 million the previous month and from $213 million in October 2011. But given that the totals are being measured by value rather than quantities, we must consider the role of module prices in these calculations.

Moreover, not a single installer or distributor we've spoken with has said the tariffs have led to either an industry-wide or company-level switch to U.S.-made modules. (Of course, please give us a call if this describes you; diverse perspectives are always welcome.) Not surprisingly, Malaysia and Taiwan posted increases in solar exports to the U.S., per SolarWorld's analysis.

The anti-tariff crowd repeatedly warned that placing duties on Chinese modules would drive up system costs, hurting market growth. So far, though, no system integrator has reported any pricing pain or supply bottlenecks while continuing to buy Chinese modules (now commonly made with Taiwanese cells).

‘There was no effect on us at all,’ says Warren Brown, president and CEO of OneSun Solar, echoing the thoughts of several installation executives. ‘Prices went down, down, down – and we went right there with it.’

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