Why Tariffs on Chinese Photovoltaics Could Be Bad for the Planet

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David Biello over at Scientific American has taken the time to explain why he thinks the recent decision to place tariffs on Chinese photovoltaics is a bad idea, and not just for America.

We’ve already covered the decision here at Cleantechnia over the past week, Andrew detailing the Commerce Department’s ruling and Zach taking the time to shine a light on CASE’s response to the decision, as well as imparting some of his own wisdom on the matter.

Now, David Biello of Scientific American explains why he thinks that it is a bad idea for the planet as a whole.

In 2011 alone, we imported more than 93 million photovoltaic modules from China, thanks to prices that fell below $1 per watt.

Raising that price through tariffs might prevent more U.S. solar companies from going bankrupt like Solyndra and Unisolar did. But the tariffs will also mean higher prices for U.S. customers who want solar power—whether homeowners or utilities.

High prices have been the main reason that solar power still accounts for less than 1 percent of U.S. electricity. And high prices mean our nation will continue to convert only slowly from relying on electricity derived from burning fossil fuels to relying more on electricity derived directly from the sun.

Given that the world has a large and growing problem with greenhouse gas emissions driving climate change, that’s not a good outcome for the planet.

My Own Thoughts

I don’t want to belabour the point. From an American point of view, this is obviously good news for manufacturing companies such as SolarWorld. US citizens will be glad that jobs are staying in their country, and there is now more chance that any American solar development will see money funneled back into the country rather than to a foreign country.

But one has to wonder at the wisdom of hampering the ability of the average citizen the chance to install solar by effectively pushing up the price.

Image Source: Official U.S. Navy Imagery

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Joshua S Hill

I'm a Christian, a nerd, a geek, and I believe that we're pretty quickly directing planet-Earth into hell in a handbasket! I also write for Fantasy Book Review (.co.uk), and can be found writing articles for a variety of other sites. Check me out at about.me for more.

Joshua S Hill has 4403 posts and counting. See all posts by Joshua S Hill

3 thoughts on “Why Tariffs on Chinese Photovoltaics Could Be Bad for the Planet

  • This is a “moral gray area”. They are so many wrongs involved here.
    A) China should have done demand side support (legal) not supply side
    B) US (and all developed countries) plus China (and all emerging countries) should have
    – Removed support/gifts to coal/gas/oil (use this cash to increase eff and support green power) Note I would include nuclear in the remove gifts group but that is for another day.
    – Carbon tax coal/gas/oil need to include external/hidden costs. Pay this cash to people. They can then either pay it back to coal/gas/oil or switch to clean options.

    But since we live in a messed up world. US politians owned by coal/oil/gas; China signs WTO but ignores rules. How do we move forward?

    • “Commerce imposed preliminary margins of 31.14% for Trina Solar imports, 31.22% for Suntech, 31.18% for other Chinese manufacturers, and 249.96% for China-wide imports from companies that did not participate in the case.”
      Source: Clean Technica (http://s.tt/1caAS)

      So, if I’ve got this right, the price of panels from Trina and Suntech will roughly go from $1/watt to $1.30/watt. Obviously every increase hurts, but panel price is no longer the problem slowing installation rates in the US.

      According to Greentech Media the price of solar is multiples of the cost of the panels.

      “Residential system prices were virtually flat quarter over quarter, increasing slightly from $6.39 per watt in the first quarter to $6.42 per watt in the second quarter of 2011.” Overall average (residential, commercial and solar farm) price was $5.20/watt.


      A $0.30/watt increase for $5.20/watt systems is about 6%.

      Germany has been able to get its installed rooftop rate down to $2.80/watt vs. the US rate of $5.20/watt.


      We’ve got a problem other than panel price. A small increase in panel cost doesn’t help, but it’s not what has been slowing installation.

      First Solar, a US company, has broken below the $1/watt barrier. Higher prices for Chinese panels could mean a move away from imported panels and to US manufactured thin film with raising the overall price of systems.

      We need to worry less about the Chinese and worry more about why we, the Americans, cannot start to match the efficiency of the Germans.

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