Federal data show the U.S. solar power segment relied heavily in Asian imports two years ago. File photo by Stephen Shaver/UPI. | License Photo
Feb. 15 (UPI) -- As the Trump administration tries to create a domestic edge, federal data show the U.S. solar energy industry relied heavily on Asian imports.
The U.S. Energy Information Administration said in a daily brief that in 2016 two thirds of the solar modules, measured in direct current, imported into the United States came from China, Malaysia and South Korea.
When measured in direct current, the amount of utility scale solar power online that year meant "many" of the systems installed "probably used imported panels," the EIA's brief read.
President Donald Trump in late January signed off on measures imposing a 30 percent duty on imported solar products following review and recommendations from the U.S. International Trade Commission. In signing the proclamation, Trump said he was committed to backing U.S. companies that were "very badly hurt" by subsidized foreign solar products.
The ITC took up the case amid complaints from Suniva, a Chinese-owned company with U.S. manufacturing centers, and SolarWorld, whose parent is in Germany, that cheap solar components from Asia made the U.S. sector less competitive.
Suniva went bankrupt last year. Juergen Stein, the CEO and president of SolarWorld Americas, said in a statement the decision would "rebuild solar manufacturing in the United States."
The ITC twice -- in 2012 and 2014 -- issued trade decisions on solar components manufactured in Asia.
Critics of the 2018 tariff said it would hurt the U.S. solar sector because the domestic segment was centered on installation rather than manufacturing of components. The EIA noted that modules, meanwhile, represent only one portion of the total solar component.
Before the president signed off on the ITC recommendations, Frank Yu, a consultant at Wood Mackenzie on power and renewables in the Asia-Pacific, said the tariff would deliver a short-term jolt to Asian solar panel manufacturers.
In the United States, meanwhile, a benchmark for solar competitiveness against other forms of energy outlined in the SunShot Initiative, a policy left over from President Barack Obama, was achieved three years ahead of schedule.