Solar panel imports down 50% in the first two months of 2018

The United States has significantly slowed down total solar modules imported to start 2018. After the last six months of 2017 averaged more than a gigawatt a month, January and February of 2018 averaged just over 500 MW of volume.

In the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) Energy Information Administration (EIA) Monthly Solar Photovoltaic Module Shipment Report we are given two views – annual module shipments (PDF) and modules shipment by state so far in 2018 (PDF). The state level report shows California (30% of total) and North Carolina (13%) leading by far. Arizona (6%), Texas (5%), New Jersey (4%) and Massachusetts (3%) come in heavy afterwards.

Even though the report was California heavy as usual, 30%, this value is far lower than historical values of 50% and more. It speaks of a widening market.

The biggest piece of data from the report is the absolute collapse of imports in January and February. This slowdown occurred before the official announcement in late January, which may be because the market was unable to clearly pin down an exact date that the Section 201 announcement was going to be made.

It may also be that stockpiles of modules had already been shipped. The report shows a heavy increase in imports starting in March 2017, the month that Suniva petitioned for the Section 201 case. It can be assumed that many installation companies and speculators purchased volume for later installations, some not yet sold, in order to avoid later import tariffs.

Also noted was a continued lowering of price per watt, with a significant drop off in February. Are the tariffs going to push solar panel importers toward the cheapest solar panels? The Section 201 tariff, being based on solar panel price, punishes premium products with a higher absolute tax. For instance, a $1/W SunPower panel will pay 30¢/W as a tax, whereas the average-priced module at 42¢/W will pay a 12.6¢/W tariff.

It will be interesting to observe purchase habits as the annual 5% step down period approaches each year, and it is likely that developers will hold off on importing product as this date approaches.