A container ship arrives at the Port of Long Beach, Calif. US ports have seen a jump in solar shipments from Asia.
US solar panel imports started 2023 with a bang, continuing a comeback that started in the second half of last year after President Joe Biden temporarily waived tariffs on certain photovoltaic cells and modules from Southeast Asia alleged to be circumventing decade-old tariffs on China.
The volume of shipping containers bringing foreign-made photovoltaic (PV) panels to US ports in the first quarter of 2023 jumped about 87% from a year ago to 50,227 20-foot equivalent units, according to Panjiva. That was 12% more than in the final quarter of 2022 and marked the third consecutive quarterly rise.
This continuing resurgence in the first three months of 2023 drove PV imports tracked by the supply chain research specialist, a unit of S&P Global Market Intelligence, to a new quarterly high.
On May 16, Biden vetoed a bipartisan resolution that would have retroactively struck down his two-year tariff freeze on PV imports from Cambodia, Malaysia, Thailand and Vietnam. The US Commerce Department in December 2022 issued a preliminary decision that certain crystalline-silicon PV makers in those countries are sidestepping tariffs on China, with a final decision anticipated this month.
"I vetoed HJ Res. 39 because we cannot afford to create new uncertainty for American businesses and workers in the solar industry," Biden said in a statement. "We can and must strengthen our energy security by maintaining our focus on expanding US capacity that is ready to come on line as this temporary bridge concludes in June 2024."
The president cited 51 new and expanded domestic solar facilities that have been announced since 2021, including manufacturing projects supported by lucrative tax incentives in the Inflation Reduction Act of 2022.
"This strategy could not have come at a better time as the US is experiencing an avalanche of solar manufacturing investment across the country thanks to the historic Inflation Reduction Act," Abigail Ross Hopper, president and CEO of the Solar Energy Industries Association, said in a May 16 statement on Biden's veto. The Commerce Department probe "effectively shut down the solar industry last spring," she added.
Back to normal?
US solar panel imports in the first quarter of 2023 totaled 850,157 metric tons, up from 672,863 metric tons in the fourth quarter of 2022. Vietnam alone accounted for 30.4% of shipments to the US, followed by Thailand, Malaysia and Cambodia. Together, the four Southeast Asian countries accounted for 79.3% of US PV module imports during this year's first quarter, Panjiva data shows.
Among the largest shippers to the US in the first quarter was a Vietnamese manufacturing affiliate of Arizona-based thin-film solar company First Solar Inc., which is not subject to the Commerce Department probe. Other major shippers in the period included affiliates of Chinese companies Trina Solar Co. Ltd. and LONGi Green Energy Technology Co. Ltd., both of which were preliminarily found to be circumventing tariffs, and Boway Group., which was preliminarily cleared of circumvention.
US solar panel imports may also be rising as US Customs and Border Protection releases modules detained as part of its enforcement of the Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Act, a 2021 US law that banned imports linked to China's Xinjiang region unless the importer can prove that goods were made in the absence of forced labor.
China has consistently denied allegations of forced labor.
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