U.S. Solar Imports Hit Record 54GW in 2023

New milestone has sparked domestic manufacturing concerns and policy debates over the future of clean energy.

Alicia C. Nelson


Alicia C. Nelson


Mar 22, 2024

U.S. Solar Imports Hit Record 54GW in 2023

US Hits Milestone in Solar Panel Imports Amid Concerns Over Domestic Manufacturing Viability

The United States marked a significant surge in solar panel imports in 2023, with the totality reaching an unprecedented high of 54 gigawatts (GW)—an 82% increase from 2022, as reported by S&P Global Market Intelligence. As originally flagged in a piece by Renewable Magazine, this dramatic rise in imports chiefly originating from Southeast Asia has sparked concerns over the potential impacts on the burgeoning American solar manufacturing sector. The record-setting year saw the United States import almost tenfold the number of panels compared to the previous five years, signaling a shift in the nation's supply dynamics for solar technology.

The last quarter of 2023 alone witnessed imports of 15 GW of solar panels, a 40% climb from the same time in the previous year, outperforming any previous quarterly record. This consistently high volume of imports, surpassing domestic solar production capacity, has led to discussions within the industry regarding the sustainability of the national market relying so heavily on foreign panels.

Push-and-Pull Factors in Solar Imports Expansion

In June 2022, President Biden instigated a two-year suspension of anti-dumping and anti-circumvention tariffs on those crystalline-silicon solar cells and panels that were imported from Cambodia, Malaysia, Thailand, and Vietnam. This policy decision, set to expire in June 2024, has created a temporary window for companies to increase installations without duty imposition. As a consequence, solar panel shipments from these Southeast Asian nations have been on a brisk uptrend, representing a commanding 84% of the US's overall imports in the final quarter of 2023.

This import activity has not come without ramifications. Industry experts emphasize the growing dependency on foreign photovoltaic inputs, particularly from China, as a contentious issue requiring attention. Despite incentives from programs like the Inflation Reduction Act, the need for a more robust domestic solar infrastructure is evident. Emily de La Bruyere, co-founder of Horizon Advisory, has been vocal in advocating for enhanced domestic content requirements and restrictions on Chinese companies to solidify the United States' position in trusted, clean solar production.

Regulatory Navigations and Future Outlook

The influx of imported panels will soon face regulatory checks, as the Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Act demands that imports not be associated with forced labor in China’s Xinjiang region. This legal framework will likely necessitate a compliance shift to photovoltaic panels made with non-Chinese wafers and polysilicon that clears the US Customs and Border Protection protocols. As the industry navigates these regulations, the Chinese government, through the Chinese Embassy's spokesperson Liu Pengyu, has expressed hope for continued US-China collaboration in photovoltaic power generation and climate governance, referencing agreements such as the November 2023 Sunnylands Statement.

Nevertheless, the market's future, including the fate of domestic manufacturing and the integrity of imports, hinges on the delicate balance between regulatory measures and strategic policy decisions. With the growing momentum of renewable energy solutions, the United States faces the challenge of fostering a self-sustaining clean energy sector while also engaging in smart international collaborations that advance both climate goals and economic interests.

Source: Renewable Energy Magazine

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