The IRA Re-energized the U.S. Solar Industry, But Cheap Imports Could Shut It Down Again

By Cathalijne Adams
Mar 15 2024 |
Engineers building a solar panel system on the roof of a house. | Getty Images

A moratorium on additional solar import duties expires in June.

Cheap solar imports coming into the United States threaten solar panel costs into a tailspin and imperil the continued growth of America’s burgeoning photovoltaic energy sector, a new report forecasts.

U.S. solar panel prices could drop from more than 23 cents to as low as 16 cents per watt by the end of 2025, a paywalled report from energy research organization BloombergNEF shows. This import pressure comes after the Biden administration rolled out a suite of clean energy tax credits in the Inflation Reduction Act, which has been met with a wealth of domestic solar panel factory openings. Since the climate law’s passage, companies have announced nearly $8 billion in U.S. solar factory investments, more than tripling the amount of total investment announced from 2018 through mid-2022.

But that growth is being undermined by solar panels imports from Chinese companies that have been tied to forced labor and carbon-intensive manufacturing.

A BloombergNEF solar expert comments in E&E News:

“Price pressures, combined with construction delays and very high capex to build cell factories in the US will result in many cell factory plans being canceled,” wrote Pol Lezacano, a BloombergNEF solar analyst in an email to E&E News.

Alarm bells are ringing, but the Biden administration appears ready to act. During a recent visit to Beijing, Treasury Department officials warned their Chinese counterparts that the U.S. will act if China dumps its solar panels in the global market. Furthermore, they cautioned, the U.S. will organize its allies to do the same, according to the Financial Times.

A moratorium on additional solar panel anti-dumping and countervailing duties is set to expire in June 2024, clearing the way for trade action that was stalled following a 2023 Commerce investigation launched by California solar company Auxin. The inquiry found that Chinese companies were indeed circumventing U.S. tariffs on solar imports by shipping their products through Cambodia, Malaysia, Thailand, and/or Vietnam. Without additional trade enforcement, that trade cheating continues.

The incoming wave of import dumping is far from the first time that the U.S. solar sector has had to grapple with illegal trade practices. Back in the 2010s, the U.S. solar manufacturing industry collapsed as Chinese manufacturers flooded the global market with its solar panels. American solar factories closed and thousands of valuable U.S. jobs were lost even though both the Bush and Obama administrations had put initiatives in place to incentivize domestic production.

We are at the precipice of falling off this exact same cliff.

The federal government has wisely invested taxpayer dollars in growing our domestic clean energy industry, but it’s all for naught if we fail to level the playing field. U.S. solar panel manufacturers deserve trade action before it’s too late.