Trade War Goes to the Trenches

The solar-module trade war is growing hotter, with new salvos fired by both sides. Here’s a summary of battlefield news for July:

Reuters reports that while imports of Chinese modules fell sharply in May, the major Chinese factories are finding Taiwanese and other sources for their cells to evade tariff-driven price increases, and accelerating their acquisition of manufacturing plants closer to their end markets. As a result, the steady multi-year price drop continues, albeit at a slower pace. Pressure on Western-owned factories has not abated.

Meanwhile, China has opened its own inquiry into whether polysilicon ingots made in the United States and Korea have been exported to China at prices that damage Chinese polysilicon factories.

A group of European module manufacturers, led by SolarWorld in Germany, on Tuesday filed a new anti-dumping complaint against Chinese factories through the European Union.

The Coalition for Affordable Solar Energy fired back, with a statement beginning “Today Germany-based SolarWorld has once again demonstrated that it is willing to undermine the world’s solar industry in a desperate effort to avoid competition in the marketplace.”

Nonetheless, SolarWorld stock, which had lost 60 percent of its value over the past year, appeared for now to have reversed the slide.

Meanwhile, China reaffirmed its determination to build 21 gigawatts of PV generation by 2015, and announced a new goal of 50 gigawatts by 2020. And in India, sources predicted that the country might install up to 40 gW by 2020. While that rapid expansion may help to work through the global oversupply of PV modules, it raises the likelihood of very rapid investment in inverter and BOS manufacturing in China. Because aluminum extrusions are a commodity worldwide, racking manufacturers can probably feel safe about their local markets. But Western inverter manufacturers may soon face the same fate as module factories, with a flood of low-priced Chinese inverters entering global markets.

And Ben Santarris, head of corporate communications at SolarWorld’s U.S. subsidiary, held a conference during InterSolar to explain the mechanics of the new tariffs on Chinese modules and cells. “The 31-percent rate is just an initial rate, based on the difference between the selling price and the calculated cost to manufacture,” he said. “As prices and manufacturing costs change, the tariff rate will change, too.”

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