The solar industry has trumped Donald Trump’s January 2018 decision to put tariffs on imported solar panels.
Trump planned as much as 30 percent tariff on solar equipment made abroad, a move that threatened to handicap a $28 billion industry that relies on parts made abroad for 80 percent of its supply. Just the mere threat of tariffs shook solar developers, with some hoarding panels and others stalling projects in anticipation of higher costs.
On June 12th, a U.S. Trade Representative said that it’s granting an exemption to solar duties for bifacial panels, ones that can generate power on both sides. That’s a win for both Asian manufacturers including JinkoSolar Holding Co., LG Electronics Inc., and Hanwha Q Cells Co. and big U.S. solar-farm developers that can easily switch over to using them.
When the tariff was first announced, Hugh Bromley, a New York based analyst at Bloomberg New Energy Finance suggested that “developers may have to walk away from their projects. Bromley argued that the tariffs may require “Some rooftop solar companies may have to pull out” of some states.
Following the trade representatives notice, Bromley said: “This could insulate almost the entire utility-scale market from tariffs.” “I would expect the utility-scale industry to pivot almost 100% to bifacial products,” he added.
Some companies have already shifted their entire supply chains to skirt the duties. Others are building factories in the U.S. In September, California-based solar maker SunPower Corp. won an exemption, arguing that its panels — made mostly in factories abroad — is a premium product.
“We’ve been advocating for additional exclusions, and bifacial module, in particular, for over a year now,” said John Smirnow, vice president of market strategy for the trade group Solar Energy Industries Association. “This exemption will accelerate the adoption of bifacial technology in the U.S., which is still in a relatively early stage.”
Roth Capital Partners said the news may be negative for U.S. solar maker First Solar Inc. and positive for Jinko and Canadian Solar Inc., which in May agreed to supply 1,800 megawatts of bifacial and traditional modules to EDF Renewables. U.S. solar installers Sunrun Inc. and Vivint Solar Inc. also stand to benefit, analyst Philip Shen said.
However, a June 18th report from the Solar Energy Industries Association and Wood Mackenzie Power & Renewables, a market research group, found that the first quarter of 2019 was the strongest in the U.S. solar industry’s history, with 2.7 gigawatts of solar capacity added to the grid. New solar installations should grow 25 percent from 2018, to 13.3 gigawatts. The bounce back, after solar installations dipped 2 percent last year, was driven by larger-scale utility solar projects, which account for 61 percent of the first quarter’s growth.
The growth in the solar market and the cut-out for bifacial panels during trade negotiations is good news for Nevada Governor Steve Sisolak’s plan to double the amount of renewable energy currently provided by Nevada’s electric companies.
Governor Sisolak wants to push Nevada’s total alternative energy policy further. Senate Bill 358 sponsored by state Sen. Chris Brooks, D-Las Vegas, requires state electric producers to buy or generate 50 percent of their power from solar, wind and other renewable power sources by 2030. It goes on to set a goal of zero carbon emissions from energy producers by 2050.