U.S. solar panel manufacturers welcome ITC decision

November 8, 2012

The global competition between Asia Pacific and U.S. manufacturers could intensify after a federal trade panel found China responsible for the continuing battle that solar panel companies face to remain competitive in the market.

According to the Boston Globe, the U.S. International Trade Commission voted to apportion a significant amount of blame onto Chinese solar firms after a number of U.S. manufacturers complained that cheap imports were affecting their business strategy. Solar panel production has been one of the success stories in the Asia Pacific region, with China exporting billions of dollars of solar products to the U.S.

The alternative energy industry has been under an increasing amount of scrutiny in recent years with a number of solar panel manufacturing companies seemingly on the brink of collapse as cheaper foreign products continue to be available to consumers. Figures released by the Commerce Department show that $3.1 billion in solar panels and photovoltaic cells were imported into the U.S. in 2011, and the Chinese government recently provided its solar industry with $30 billion to ensure that it could become the market leader in the renewable energy technology.

The decision by the ITC to blame the Chinese for the harm that the exporting of low-cost product does to the domestic manufacturing industry will raise tensions between the two nations, with the Obama Administration expected to rubberstamp the application of steep tariffs on Chinese companies. Economists believe that the 250 percent import tax that was levied on solar companies in October will now be officially sanctioned, with the ITC ruling expected to last for five years and then be re-evaluated by the federal government in 2017.

"With this relief, combined with an aggressive domestic enforcement regime, there is hope that the United States can maintain a viable solar manufacturing base," commented Gordon Brinser, president of Oregon-based SolarWorld Industries America Inc. and the head of an ­alliance of American solar companies that asked the US government to limit the amount of Chinese exports flooding the market.

U.S. companies can now start to expect a more level playing field when it comes to solar panel manufacture, with domestic producers able to implement a more realistic manufacturing strategy in line with the proposed alternative energy targets of state government.

The decision by the ITC will also go some way to healing a domestic rift between solar panel manufacturers and installation companies, who have found that cheaper foreign products allow them to offer consumers a low-cost option for solar energy generation.