After several media outlets have reported the possibility of the bifacial tariff exemption being withdrawn for days, the office of the US Trade Representative finally made it official and confirmed the speculation to be true. The tariff exemption of the bifacial products, which was announced only in June, will be rescinded, effective October 28.
When the news about the withdrawal started circulating last Friday, it was hard to determine whether this change of policy will actually take place. There was only one undated docket on the USTR website detailing the issue and no press release regarding the policy pivot was published at the time. USTR submitted the document to the Federal Register at 8:45 AM on Oct 8, 2019 (EST), scheduled to be published on Oct 9, 2019.
Imports vs Homegrown Solar
The docket on the USTR website has explained the reasons behind the reversal of their decision regarding the bifacial cells and modules. The exclusion of bifacial solar products has received lots of public attention. The USTR stated, “Some have asserted that the bifacial solar panels exclusion granted in the June 2019 notice is broader than the category of products described in the exclusion requests submitted as of March 16, 2018. Others have stated that the exclusion will cause a significant increase in imports of bifacial solar panels, with projections that such a surge is imminent.”
The USTR believes that the exclusion is very likely to lead to a noteworthy increase in imports of bifacial solar panels due to the growing production of bifacial products on a global level. These imported products are likely to compete with the monofacial and bifacial CSPV products supplied by the domestic manufacturers in the US. Therefore the bifacial tariff exemption will undermine what the safeguard measure set out to achieve.
The unstoppable bifacial technology
This latest development of the bifacial products has given a mere 20-day notice. According to pv magazine, ordering modules usually takes a rather long time. Therefore the bifacial cells and panels that are not already on its way to the US are likely to be subject to the restored tariff.
Roth Capital has weighed in on the subject matter and declared this move to be ineffective to curb the imports in 2020. Some manufacturers of solar modules have confirmed this declaration with pv magazine. Their products have been sold out at least a year ago when the exemption was not even in place.
The investment firm believes that technology will continue to be favored by the manufacturers and developers due to its enhanced power generation, regardless of the existence of the tariff.
This view has been confirmed by Sun Xiaojing, the senior research analyst from Wood Mackenzie: “There are developers that have looked at bifacial since 2017, which means they’re not cost-driven." She further explained their enthusiasm for the technology: “They think bifacial makes sense from a system-cost perspective, which means there’s momentum in bifacial that tariffs can’t take away.”
The US solar industry has shown resilience during the onslaught of Section 201. Despite the decline in 2018, the industry has bounced back; WoodMac estimated that it will reach 12.6 GWdc of installed capacity by the end of 2019. The domestic module manufacturers can supply less than half of that demand, as the data from the US Energy Information Administration has shown. Therefore it is quite obvious that restoring the tariff cannot stop the imports of bifacial products. The manufacturers and developers will continue to seek them out for their technical superiority.