US imports of Chinese solar climbed sharply in Q4

Before President Donald J. Trump imposed tariffs late last month, Chinese solar module makers did the most logical thing in the world: They rushed as many modules as they could fit into cargo ships to get them to the United States before the tariffs went into effect.

According to a Bloomberg New Energy Finance (BNEF) report (as reported by Bloomberg’s Chris Martin), imports of Chinese solar modules increased 1,200% in the fourth quarter of 2017, as the U.S. International Trade Commission recommended to Trump that he impose some sanctions on international module manufacturers.

It became increasingly clear as the year wound down that tariffs would be imposed, and Chinese module manufacturers flooded the market at a rate 11 times faster than the first seven months of the year. The report says there are currently up to 5 GW of modules sitting in warehouses and ports around the country.

Current supplies in country could keep the solar industry supplied for six months. The report also suggests that “shipments from exempt suppliers, including First Solar Inc. may extend that period to nine months.”

While Chinese manufacturers were the most active importers, it wasn’t just Chinese manufacturers, since the tariffs were universal for any imported modules. For example, SunPower imported as many modules as it could from its Mexico and non-Chinese Asian factories.

SunPower has petitioned the U.S. government in an attempt to exempt its modules from the tariffs, arguing that they are fundamentally different from the other sanctioned modules and don’t compete directly with U.S. module manufacturers.

Currently, the tariffs are being challenged from practically all corners, in both U.S. courts and before the World Trade Organization, with actions from the European Union to Canada to Korea, and beyond.

The tariffs officially went into effect on February 7.