Last week, the Trump administration issued its long-awaited decision on a high-profile trade case, imposing 30% tariffs on imported crystalline silicon photovoltaic modules and cells. Importantly, the first 2.5 GW of cell imports of every year are excluded, and the tariffs will decline in 5% increments over a four-year span, ending at 15% by 2022. While not ideal, the decision produced a sigh of relief for many in the solar industry, as the tariffs’ impact on the solar industry is not expected to result in long-term damage.
In fact, Jigar Shah, co-founder of investor Generate Capital Inc. and an outspoken advocate for the solar industry, actually described the decision as “good news” in a recent remarks to Bloomberg. The tariffs are “exactly what the solar industry asked for behind closed doors” to prevent a negative impact on companies, he said.
The 30% amount was far less than the relief requested by the petitioners who initially brought the trade case, Suniva and SolarWorld (which, in what some may call an example of instant karma, are not expected to survive given the Trump Administration’s final decision), and even less than the 35% rate the U.S. International Trade Commission recommended in October 2017. According to GTM Research, a 30% tariff will increase solar panel costs approximately $0.10-$0.15/watt, which could reduce utility-scale solar installations by 9%. Further, the Solar Energy Industries Association estimates that the tariffs will cost approximately 23,000 jobs.
The duties will remain in place for the full four years, but will likely be challenged at the World Trade Organization, meaning they may not remain in effect for the full four years. Moreover, countries targeted by the tariffs, most notably China, could also levy retaliatory tariffs on U.S. exports in response. Accordingly, while trade issues surrounding solar are far from over, the uncertainty created by the pending Trump Administration decision is, and the solar industry can now move to adapt to life under the tariffs.