USTR seeks 20% import tariff on bifacial panels
Chinese companies supplying panels for US solar farms
Invenergy says bifacial panels ‘increase efficiency’
Houston â€” Bifacial solar modules, which produce electricity from both sides of a solar panel, are the focus of a trade dispute that involves the Trump Administration, foreign exporters of the panels, and US solar developers who are increasing usage of the panels in their projects.
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The issue concerning a Section 201 tariff exemption that has been juggled for more than three years is due to go before the US Court of International Trade on June 17.
All imported solar panels were hit with a 30%, four-year tariff in early 2018, but bifacial panels won an exemption in June 2019.
However, that exemption was revoked and reinstated on multiple occasions. On May 18, imported bifacial modules lost the exemption from Section 201 tariffs again and saw a 20% tariff imposed, but on May 28, Judge Gary Katzman of the US Court of International Trade ruled that bifacial solar panels could continue to enter the country tariff-free and scheduled a hearing on June 17.
The administration’s US Trade Representative reacted quickly to the judge’s ruling saying it opposed the decision to maintain the exemption, and in conjunction with the Secretaries of Commerce and Energy, concluded that the exclusion of bifacial modules from the Section 201 tariffs undermined the attempts to safeguard domestic solar panel production.
The USTR said it had originally taken action to eliminate the bifacial exception in order to protect jobs. It also argued that over the course of the dispute the exemption resulted in “significant increases in imports of bifacial solar panels, and that such panels likely will compete with domestically produced monofacial and bifacial CSPV products in the U.S. market.”
In April, the USTR pointed to an International Trade Commission report that it said found that bifacial panels are “projected to gain a large share of total demand in the coming years due to their power generation advantages and relative cost competitiveness with monofacial panelsâ€”particularly the price advantage that the bifacial exclusion conferred on them.”
The president of the Solar Energy Industries Association, Abigail Ross Hopper, however, issued her own statement backing Judge Katzman’s decision to reimpose the exemption and to hold a hearing.
“We maintain that the federal government bypassed procedural requirements in attempting to reverse a tariff exclusion for imported bifacial solar panels,” she said.
The solar association said that the US solar industry was “disappointed” by USTR’s decision to reimpose the exemption on May 18.
SEIA argued that the exemption was originally sought because of what it called “an acute shortage” of domestic solar panels.
The SEIA is hoping that the exemption remains in place over the months that it might take to litigate the matter.
Analysts have argued that a bifacial panel generates up to 30% more power than a monofacial solar panel and that by utilizing the bifacial panels for a large solar project can significantly reduce the balance-of-system costs of a project.
Among the biggest suppliers of the bifacial panels are Korea’s LG Electronics and China’s Canadian Solar, Jinko Solar, Trina Solar and Yingli Solar.
There is a Sunnyvale, California-based company, Sunpreme, that also manufactures bifacial panels in Jianxing, near Shanghai, and, according to its website, distributes its product to 24 countries.
In February 2019, another China-based manufacturer, LONGi Solar, signed a contract to supply 224 MW of bifacial panels for a solar farm that has been built in Mitchell County, Georgia.
Invenergy, on April 30, 2020, announced it had completed work on the 160-MW Southern Oak Solar facility in Mitchell County that has a PPA to supply solar power to Georgia Power through 2049.
Invenergy said at the time the facility was its second solar facility to use bifacial panels.
The Chicago-based wind and solar developer said it developed and constructed the 74-MW Wilkinson Solar project in North Carolina, which began commercial operations near the end of 2019, that was its first project to use bifacial solar panels.
“The cutting-edge technology increases efficiency by capturing additional sunlight within the same project footprint,” Invenergy said of bifacial panels in its April 30 statement.