The extent of the split within the European solar industry over proposals for Brussels to impose tariffs on imported solar panels from China was laid bare yesterday, when it emerged that over 1,000 companies from across the industry have written to the European Commission warning import duties could have a grave impact on the industry.
The European Commission recently launched an anti-dumping and anti-subsidy investigation against Chinese solar manufacturers, after European solar manufacturers lodged a series of complaints alleging that Chinese rivals were benefiting from unfair subsidies.
Speculation is now mounting that the EU could follow in the footsteps of the US and impose import tariffs on Chinese solar panels, while also pursuing a complaint to the World Trade Organization about Chinese government subsidies.
Predictions the Commission could impose tariffs were given further credence last month, when it ordered customs officials to keep a record of the number of Chinese solar panels being imported in order to allow for retrospective levies to be imposed.
But while European and US solar technology manufacturers would welcome such action, installers and prospective purchasers of solar technology are increasingly concerned that such a move will drive up the cost of solar panels, leading to a slowdown in the deployment of the technology and job losses across the industry.
Now the Alliance for Affordable Solar Energy (AFASE), a coalition of over 350 companies opposed to introduction of import tariffs, has orchestrated a letter signed by 1,024 companies that warns of the potential negative impacts of any protectionist measures.
The letter, addressed to European Trade Commissioner Karel De Gucht, argues the problems faced by European solar manufacturers are more the result of over-capacity in the global solar market caused by the economic slowdown than competition from China.
It also warns that "the imposition of anti-dumping and/or countervailing duties will severely hamper the growth of solar energy in the EU to the detriment of the entire EU solar PV value chain and without significant positive effect for the EU solar producers".
"All experts emphasise that photovoltaics will exit from the current bust cycle by continued cost cutting through cost rationalisations and economies of scale thereby sustaining and increasing demand," it adds. "We are convinced that it is precisely this inability to sufficiently cut costs at a crucial stage in the industry's development which has injured EU producers but it could also be the avenue forward for their success. Imposing additional duties is in blatant contradiction with the decrease in costs that is needed for the industry to survive."