U.S. solar panel shipments rose 33% in 2020

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U.S. solar PV module shipments (including imports, exports, and domestic production and sales) rose by one-third year-on-year from 2019 to 2020, said the Energy Information Administration (EIA).

EIA reported a record high 21.8 million peak kW shipped in 2020, a 5.4 million peak kW gain over the 2019 total.

In 2020, 89% of U.S. solar panel shipments were imports, and total peak kW imported rose by 26%. Vietnam was the leading exporter to the United States, followed by Malaysia, South Korea, and Thailand.

In August, a group of companies asked the U.S. Commerce Department to impose antidumping (AD) and countervailing duty (CVD) orders on a handful of producers of crystalline silicon photovoltaic cells and modules that are imported from Malaysia, Thailand, and Vietnam.

The American Solar Manufacturers Against Chinese Circumvention filed three petitions through the law firm Wiley Rein requesting that Commerce investigate what it said are “unfairly traded imports” from the three countries.

In their petition, the U.S. companies complained that after AD/CVD duties were imposed on Chinese-origin solar cells, Chinese integrated producers started building cell and module assembly plants across Southeast Asia, while continuing “to rely heavily” on Chinese labor, raw materials, and inputs.

Solar capacity additions

The EIA said in its report that solar capacity additions rose 25% between 2019 to 2020, with utility-scale solar recording the largest gain at 29%. Small-scale solar projects of less than 1 MW rose by 19%.

Despite supply chain disruptions, which remain an ongoing issue today, prices continued to fall. The average value of solar shipments, a useful proxy for price, fell from $1.96 per peak watt in 2010 to $0.38 per peak watt in 2020, EIA said.

One factor that drove growth despite pandemic-driven supply chain constraints was the scheduled reduction of the federal investment tax credit (ITC). In December 2020, Congress passed an extension of the ITC, providing a 26% tax credit for the year 2020-22, and 22% in 2023.

Residential installation growth was also driven in part by an increase in home improvement projects as consumers spent more time at home, said EIA.

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