U.S. Bans Chinese Imports of Solar Panel Materials Tied to Forced Labor

on Jun24
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The import ban focuses on one company and not all polysilicon products from Xinjiang, but it could roil the market for solar panels in the United States. Hoshine and its subsidiaries supply at least some metallurgical-grade silicon to the world’s eight largest polysilicon producers, which together account for 90 percent of the global market, according to Johannes Bernreuter, a polysilicon market analyst at Bernreuter Research.

Some U.S. solar companies have begun tracking and reshuffling their supply chains in anticipation of the administration’s move, but they may need to take additional steps to prove to customs officials that any imported panels do not contain material from Hoshine.

Customs and Border Protection estimates that the United States had about $6 million in direct imports from Hoshine over the past two and a half years and also imported more than $150 million in goods containing Hoshine products over that period, a small figure compared with the nation’s overall solar imports. U.S. imports of solar cells and modules totaled $8.2 billion last year, according to BloombergNEF, a research group.

Some analysts said the move on Thursday could be a prelude to further restrictions. “In our view, today’s action may only be the first step toward broader limits” on solar products from Xinjiang, Kevin Book, an analyst at ClearView Energy Partners, wrote in a research note.

The move could prove a boon to domestic solar manufacturers like First Solar, which does not use polysilicon in its panels and recently said it would double production in the United States by opening a third plant in Ohio by the middle of 2023. But U.S. manufacturers still account for only a small fraction of the solar market.

John Smirnow, general counsel and vice president for market strategy at the Solar Energy Industries Association, said the group supported the administration’s efforts on the issue of forced labor and was encouraging solar companies to shift away from materials produced in Xinjiang.

“The fact is, we do not have transparency into supply chains in the Xinjiang region, and there is too much risk in operating there,” he said. “For that reason, in October, we began calling on solar companies to leave the region, and we provided them a traceability protocol to help ensure there is not forced labor in the supply chain.”

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