This article is part of our special report Sunlight at the end of the tunnel?.
More than 400 companies from across the European Union, and leading environmental NGOS, have demanded the immediate end of punitive trade measures on solar panels and cells imported from China.
403 companies from all 28 member states warned that failure to remove the anti-dumping and anti-subsidy measures on cells and modules from China would make panels more expensive.
That was slowing down the deployment of solar across Europe, and costing the bloc much-needed jobs, the businesses said in a letter to the European Commission.
The industry call was echoed in another letter sent to EU Trade Commissioner Cecilia Malmström by five leading environmental NGOs, including Greenpeace, WWF and the Climate Action Network.
“The measures add 100,000s of euros cost to installations in the region of 10MW and above and around €1,000 to the household installations,” the industry letter read.
“To return sustainable growth to our sector, to see jobs come back to our companies and to see the value of solar grow in Europe again, the trade measures must go.”
The trade defence measures were imposed because of fears the Chinese were selling the products at an artificially lower price, lower than they would cost on their domestic market.
In a separate letter, the NGOs identified solar power as one of the key technologies needed by the EU to meet its commitments under the Paris Agreement on climate change.
World leaders pledged to curb global emissions to well below two degrees compared to pre-industrial levels. Earlier this month the EU ratified the deal, pushing it over the threshold needed to bring it into force this November.
But the environmental groups fear that the tariffs were slowing down the deployment of solar because they make it more expensive.
“It is vital that there be consistency between the EU’s climate and trade policy. We therefore urge you, Commissioner Malmström, to end the trade measures on imported solar panels immediately,” they wrote.
The Commission imposed the measures on imported Chinese solar products in 2013, sparking a bitter trade dispute with Beijing, which retaliated with an investigation into European wine imports.
The executive has since opened a probe into allegations that Chinese exporters are dodging the duties by channeling the products through Taiwan and Malaysia. The Commission on 11 February extended the duties to cover panels and cells coming from those countries.
The measures are up for expiry review with a decision on whether to extend or ditch them expected in March 2017.
Industry wants them and the minimum import price removed. While the Commission must respect EU laws protecting fair competition, it can make exemptions if it finds it is in the best interests of the Union.
“Despite the global boom in solar power, Europe today holds a worryingly small and shrinking percentage of the annual market”, the industry letter read.
“The measures have had unforeseen consequences on our companies, leading to job losses and reduced opportunity in the solar market due to increased costs.”
The NGOs echoed those concerns in their letter. “About 120,000 people are currently employed in the European solar power sector. That number could be significantly higher if the trade measures were removed,” they said.
Those jobs are urgently needed because of the employment that will be lost as polluting industries shut down during the shift to a low-carbon economy. A recent Ernst & Young study has found that 55,000 new jobs could be generated by 2020 in the EU solar supply chain.
Both groups pointed out that the EU’s target of boosting its share of renewables by 27% by 2030, compared to 1990 levels, would be made more difficult if the measures were continued.
The NGOs, which include influential climate think tank E3G, reminded Malmström that Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker had said he wants Europe to be “the world number one in renewables”.
The executive’s Energy Union strategy to lessen the bloc’s dependence on imports and fight climate change also pledges to put the consumer at the heart of the plan.
But, according to the NGOs, the trade measures hurt consumers and made it more expensive for them to generate their own solar power. Creating such active energy citizens is one of the goals of the Energy Union project.
Solar will only be able to grow in Europe without subsidies if the measures were cancelled, the 403 businesses said in their letter.
“The trade measures are ensuring that the potential of solar is not being fulfilled in Europe,” the letter said.
Not all stakeholders are in favour of removing the measures. EU ProSun represents PV cells and module producers. It made the complaint about exports via Taiwan and Malaysia.
It said that the minimum import prices on cells and modules had not hit new installations in the EU.
“Anti-dumping rules are fundamental to guarantee a fair, level playing field in the EU market. Demanding the termination of the measures is essentially like abolishing doping controls at the Olympic Games,” said Milan Nitzschke, president of EUProSun.
The Commission said, “The final decisions should be taken by March 2017 at the latest. In the process, we welcome the expression of views from all interested stakeholders, both on the producer and user side.”
The European Commission decided in 2013 to impose punitive import duties on solar panels from China in a move to guard against what it sees as dumping of cheap goods in Europe.
Chinese solar panel production quadrupled between 2009 and 2011 to more than the entire global demand.
EU producers say Chinese companies have captured more than 80% of the European market from almost zero a few years ago, exporting €21 billion to the European Union in 2011.
As a result, Chinese-made panels are as much as 45% cheaper than those made in Europe, industry executives say.
Marking an escalation of the dispute, China hit back a few months later by launching a probe into the EU wine sector.
While some European and US manufacturers would welcome EU action, installers and prospective purchasers of solar technology are 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.
German Economy Minister Philipp Roesler said the European Commission made a "grave mistake" by agreeing to duties on solar panels from China and urged the Commission to work to prevent the eruption of a trade conflict.
Brussels and Beijing finally reached an "amicable solution" in July 2013, agreeing to a minimum price for solar panel imports.
Some angry European solar panel makers blasted the deal as "unacceptable and completely against European interests,” vowing to take their case to the European Court of Justice.
- 7 November: Paris Agreement enters into force
- March 2017: Commission decision on expiry review of anti-dumping measures