American tariffs on Chinese solar panels are dangerous and pointless
SOLAR energy is at a delicate, maybe historic, moment.The cost of the glassy photovoltaic panels that generate most solar electricity-by freeing electrons from a semiconducting material such as silicon-is plummeting. In the past four years their average cost has fallen by more than 75%. At less than $1 per watt of generating capacity, solar is now the cheapest power source in some sunny places, especially those, like India, that lack fossil-fuelled alternatives. This is starting to look like a revolution. Everyone who wants a reliable and nonpolluting energy supply, you would think, would welcome that.
But on May 17th America's Commerce Department slapped a provisional tariff of 31% on 61 Chinese makers of solar panels, including some of the cheapest in the business Another group of unnamed Chinese solar companies, which failed to respond satisfactorily to the department's inquiries, were hit with a 250% tariff. These duties, which are expected to be confirmed in October, were in response to an anti-dumping complaint from seven solar firms including SolarWorld, a German company with operations in America.
China's panelmaking industry has seen explosive growth, fuelled by strong demand, mainly from Europe, but also by soft loans from state-owned lenders. Chinese panelmakers are reckoned by Bloomberg New Energy Finance (BNEF), a research firm, to be able to make panels for around 10% less than the industry's average cost. They have undercut European and American producers: between 2009 and 2011 the value of American imports of cheap Chinese panels soared from $640m to $3.1 billion.
由于受到主要来自欧洲刚性需求的刺激，同时享有国有银行软贷款的优惠，中国电池板制造业发展迅猛。调查公司彭博新能源财经（Bloomberg New Energy Finance (BNEF)）估计，中国电池板制造商制造的电池板，其价格少于业内平均成本约10%。他们削弱了欧美对手的竞争力：2009年到2011年间，美国从中国进口廉价电池板的总额从6.4亿美元猛增至31亿美元。
This has brought misery to higher-cost producers, which a recent slowdown in demand for solar panels, caused mostly by reductions in European and American subsidies, has greatly exacerbated. Many solar firms, Chinese and otherwise, are now furiously selling inventory-the bane of an industry where prices are falling-at a loss. Some have gone bust, including recently a clutch of once-pioneering German firms such as Solarhybrid, Solon, Solar Millennium and Q-Cells.
这个已经很让那些高造价的厂商苦恼，最近主要由于欧洲和美国政府削减补贴而带来的市场对光伏板需求的减缓更令其苦恼加剧。许多中国和其他国家的太阳能公司亏着本拼命甩卖库存（掉价中的产业祸根）。最近一些厂家已破产，包括一批曾是行业先驱的德国公司，如Solarhybrid, Solon, Solar Millennium 以及 Q-Cells。
The American tariffs, if confirmed, will annoy Chinese panelmakers-and perhaps a wide array of American exporters, too, if China's "strongly dissatisfied" government launches retaliatory measures. But they are unlikely to save many Western solar firms. The tariffs were long mooted (though they are even higher than expected), which has allowed Chinese exporters to build large inventories in the United States.
Some developers of American solar projects have also signed precautionary deals, committing their Chinese suppliers to covering the cost of the mooted tariffs. The most integrated Chinese solar firms, such as SunTech, the world's biggest panel-maker, could probably stomach this, because panels represent less than a quarter of the cost of installed solar generating capacity. Financing, installation and other infrastructure costs account for the rest. They will also look to make or buy panels in other Asian manufacturing hubs, such as Taiwan and South Korea. These panels will not be subject to the tariffs, even if they are assembled into solar modules in China.
Whatever the legal merits of SolarWorld's complaint, America will help neither the planet nor its own domestic consumers by shutting out Chinese solar panels. And, predicts BNEF's Nat Bullard, the tariffs will not even do much to protect American solar firms.