U.S. solar panel imports fell 27% in third quarter

solar pv recycling
Kyle Travis, left and Jon Jackson, with Lighthouse Solar, install microcrystalline PV modules on top of Kevin Donovan's town home. (Courtesy: Science in HD/Unsplash)

U.S. solar panel imports declined 27% in the third quarter of 2021, the largest quarterly decline since 2018, amid supply chain pressures and the proposed expansion of tariffs, according to a new report.

The analysis by S&P Global Market Intelligence found that the drop in imports from Q2 to Q3 2021 represented the largest quarterly drop since the beginning of 2018, when project developers preempted tariffs on the industry from then-President Donald Trump.

On Monday, the Solar Energy Industries Association sent a letter to U.S. Dept. of Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo to "refute the credibility" of the anonymous petition for circumvention tariffs on solar imports from Southeast Asia.

In the letter, SEIA CEO Abigail Ross Hopper rejected any suggestion that the advocacy group opposes domestic manufacturing because of an allegiance to China. Earlier this month, the Dept. of Commerce asked the companies behind the AD/CVD push to identify themselves.

Solar advocates fear the trade dispute could imperil the Biden administration's goal of producing 45% of U.S. electricity supply from solar by 2050. The U.S. Dept. of Energy's Solar Futures Study calls for the U.S. to install an average of 30 GW of solar capacity per year between now and 2025, then 60 GW per year from 2025. U.S. solar module manufacturers have the capacity to produce about half of the domestic demand, according to a SEIA/Wood Mackenzie report.

“SEIA was right to assert that the tariffs have failed the U.S. industry," Hopper said in the letter. "We forecasted that the Section 201 tariffs would cause significant loss of deployment, jobs, and investment, and we now know that at least 10 gigawatts of solar installations, 62,000 American solar jobs and $19 billion in investment has been lost as a result. Meanwhile, the petitioners in the Section 201 case expected the tariffs to lead to 45,000 new manufacturing jobs when we actually lost thousands of manufacturing jobs in the four years since."

Meanwhile, a report released in September by SEIA and Wood Mackenzie found that solar prices increased quarter-over-quarter and year-over-year for the first time since Wood Mackenzie began modeling solar market prices in 2014.

The most significant price increases are being seen with input costs, like steel and aluminum, and elevated freight costs.

“The solar industry continues to demonstrate strong quarterly growth, and demand is high across every segment,” said Michelle Davis, principal analyst at Wood Mackenzie and lead author of the report. “But the industry is now bumping up against multiple challenges, from elevated equipment prices to complex interconnection processes. Addressing these challenges will be critical to expanding the industry’s growth and meeting clean energy targets.”

Wood Mackenzie forecasts an annual average of 29 GW of solar capacity additions through 2026, far short of the pace needed to reach President Biden's goal of solar representing 45% of the U.S. electricity supply by 2050. Average annual solar capacity additions must reach 80 GW from 2022 through 2035 to meet the goal.

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