SGS Maine Pointe's Steve Ottley says US solar tariffs 'misguided'

03 May 2023 2 min. read
More news on

As a resolution to cancel a pause on tariffs for solar components from Southeast Asia reached the senate, SGS Maine Pointe expert Steve Ottley told publication Utility Dive the measure would be “misguided.”

The Biden administration two years ago paused any new tariffs on solar panel imports from Cambodia, Malaysia, Thailand, and Vietnam – seeking to give the US solar industry time to import cheaper components and build up a domestic supply chain. The current US Department of Commerce investigation will decide on Monday whether to extend the pause to June 2024.

The Republican-controlled house, meanwhile, on Friday passed a resolution of disapproval to overturn Biden’s tariff pause. The house resolution, which passed by a margin of 221-202, now has at least 11 cosponsors in the senate, including Democrat Joe Manchin.

Industry observers have questioned the wisdom of reintroducing tariffs on SE Asian solar products. Gregory Whetstone, president and CEO of the American Council on Renewable Energy, told Utility Dive that tariffs would devastate the US sector and put tens of thousands of jobs at risk – especially as many solar projects have already been delayed due to a shortage of panels.

SGS Maine Pointe's Steve Ottley says US solar tariffs 'misguided'

Though the Inflation Reduction Act and its increased tax incentives have driven an uptick in domestic solar production, the US industry is still very much in its nascent stage.

“As appealing as the idea of onshoring solar panel production to the US is, the fact is that currently only around 2.7% of global solar panel manufacturing is in the US,” said Steve Ottley, head of chemicals and energy at SGS Maine Pointe, a supply chain and operations consultancy.

Ottley added that China currently accounts for 75% of the solar panel market due in part to advantages in labor and environmental regulations, as well as a much larger pool of trained metallurgists.

“It will take years for the US to scale up production,” he said. “In the meantime, creating supply chain optionality and less reliance on China is good supply chain strategy. While the senators’ proposed bill to repeal the relaxing of tariffs will appeal to the masses, it appears misguided until the US production scale is achieved.”