In 2017, the solar industry was expected to be a casualty in Donald Trump’s trade war. In January, the US president slapped a 30% tariff on imported solar cells and panels (also known as modules). The tariffs on China’s solar industry were expected to raise solar panel prices, and depress new installations for years to come.
But a funny thing happened on the way to the trade war: US utilities have doubled down on building new solar power plants. The number of utility-scale solar projects being built in the US has “exploded:” a record 8.5 gigawatts (GW) were procured in the first half of 2018, according to industry reports. Although the market contracted slightly in 2017, next year’s contracts are already more than expected when the trade war was heating up.
Ellen Roybal of GE Solar called the final impact of the tariffs “largely inconsequential.” Federal tax credits, state renewable energy goals, and plunging prices for equipment from China have driven healthy demand despite the import duties. “We’re seeing the pipeline of projects to be built in 2019-2020 accelerating for us and the industry as a whole,” Roybal wrote by email.