Import tariffs threaten solar-panel industry

Solar energy, Solar PV, renewable energy
An industry under threat from an EU import tariff? This installation of solar panels is in central Bristol (Photo: Solarsense UK)

The European Commission has introduced an emergency 11.8% tariff on all solar imports from China, pending a larger 47.6% tariff being introduced in August. The decision to impose tariffs followed a 9-month investigation which began in September 2012 and found that Chinese companies are selling solar panels to Europe at far below their normal market value, causing significant harm to EU solar-panel producers. The commission believes that the fair value of a Chinese solar panel sold to Europe should be 88% higher than the actual selling price.

The news, following a period of intense debate, received a positive response from the Solar Trade Association. CEO Paul Barwell said, ‘These reports are encouraging. We are pleased that Karel de Gucht [EU Trade Commissioner] has listened to the concerns of the European solar industry and the majority of member states. However, the devil is very much in the detail, and we must keep up the pressure.

‘Any form of duties is not good news. Allowing the industry a 2-month reprieve at 11% duties, without catches, might allow the industry some breathing space, However, European delivery lead times are up to 10 weeks, and will also be subject to the availability of stock.’

Jonathan Selwyn, managing director of Lark Energy, which developed the UK’s largest solar PV farm earlier this year, is hoping a compromise between China and the EU can be reached. If the dispute is not resolved, the duties will become be imposed for five years from December.

Jonathan Selwyn says, ‘Most of the European solar industry is dependent on the low prices that Chinese panels provide and will desperate for a compromise to be reached before the higher tariff comes into force in August.’

He believes that the consequences of there not being a deal are ‘dire’ and that the European solar industry will ‘stop dead in the water, threatening tens of thousands of jobs’.

Richard Molloy, renewable-energy spokesperson for Eaton UK, says, ‘The solar market is a peculiar one in that it is amazingly sensitive to changes in market conditions concerning price. When legislation or market forces negatively impact the price, the project pipeline falls off a cliff. The funding mechanisms in place all have a built-in downward trajectory and have no ability to increase support levels when prices go up, so the effect is negative.

‘We believe that an open market is the best approach and see many downsides to imposing these duties.’

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