solar tariff cost impact 2018

How the 2018 U.S. Solar Tariff Will Impact the Price You Pay

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Update: a new section was added at the bottom of this article in September 2018 to show the tariff’s impact on residential solar prices

We’ve been receiving lots of questions about the new solar tariff from shoppers on the EnergySage Solar Marketplace. Here’s the bottom line for homeowners: this tariff will increase the cost of a typical home solar installation by $500 to $1,000. The good news is that comparison-shopping on EnergySage can save you between $1,500 and $3,000. For commercial customers, the savings could be even higher (more on that later.)

Background on Trump’s solar tariff

On January 22nd, 2018, the Trump Administration levied a 30% tariff on solar imports to the United States. The tariff covers both imported solar cells, a key input to manufacturing solar panels, and solar modules, otherwise known as solar panels. According to a fact sheet released by the U.S. Trade Representative, this tariff will last for four years and will fall by 5% annually, dropping to a 15% tariff in 2021.

We at EnergySage support free trade and are firmly opposed to any trade restriction. We also expect this action to have a limited impact on the price of home solar installations in the United States. The brunt of the impact of the tariff is expected to be felt by utility scale developers. This expectation was confirmed by a June report published by Reuters that revealed U.S. companies have cancelled or frozen $2.5 billion in large PV installation projects due to the tariffs on solar panels. 

What this solar tariff means for American consumers

A tariff is simply a tax on imports or exports. There are two types of tariffs, those which are calculated as a fixed percentage on the item and those that are calculated as a fixed dollar amount.

Trump’s tariff imposes a 30% tax on imported panels in year 1, which is actually preferable to a fixed dollar amount if you’re thinking about going solar. Because the tariff is percentage-based, its actual impact on prices will shrink each year as the price of imported solar panels continues to fall.

Due to advances in solar manufacturing, the cost of solar panels has fallen by between 2% and 6% per year for the past several years. In China, South Korea, and other countries that dominate solar panel manufacturing, falling costs and technological advances won’t slow down simply because there is a U.S. tariff – and in fact, the tariff may give them an incentive to decrease costs faster.

The end result is that the percentage-based tariff, which is already set to fall each year, will be even smaller because it will be applied to ever-decreasing module costs. An example of this trend is illustrated below, where the dollar amounts shown are in dollars per watt of solar energy.

Tariff estimated impact on solar costs over time

Tariff impactYear 1Year 2 (Est.)Year 3 (Est.)Year 4 (Est.)
Module prices (low)$0.33$0.32$0.30$0.29
Module prices (high)$0.40$0.38$0.36$0.34
Tariff percentage30%25%20%15%
Tariff impact (per watt, low)$0.10$0.08$0.06$0.04
Tariff impact (per watt, high)$0.12$0.10$0.07$0.05
Tariff impact (for a 6 kW system, low)$600$480$360$240
Tariff impact (for a 6 kW system, high)$720$600$420$300

Market experts estimate that the impact of the tariff in year 1 will be between $0.10 to $0.12 per watt. For a typical American homeowner, that represents only a 3% to 4% increase in the cost of a solar panel installation. (This corresponds to a recent analysis conducted by Greentech Media.)

By year 4, the tariff’s impact falls to only $0.04 to $0.05 per watt, which results in less than a 2% increase in installation costs. It is worth mentioning here that leading solar manufacturing countries like China, Taiwan and South Korea can simply reduce their export prices faster, and render obsolete any impact of the solar tariff.

How EnergySage helps consumers offset the solar tariff

The good news is that EnergySage can help both residential and commercial solar shoppers minimize the impact of these tariffs on their solar costs. The power of using an online marketplace like EnergySage means that solar-interested consumers can more than offset the impact of the solar tariff by simple online comparison-shopping.

A 2017 study by the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) examined the effect of EnergySage (a “quote aggregator”) on prices within the residential solar industry. This groundbreaking report, titled “The Value of Transparency in Distributed Solar PV Markets,” was based on a robust analysis of 70,000 quotes sourced from EnergySage as well as outside of EnergySage, and took nearly one year to complete.

Their big finding: “improved market transparency [on EnergySage] results in lower installation offer prices … [and] PV customers benefit from gaining access to more PV quotes.” In terms of actual dollars and cents, the researchers uncovered that “PV installers bid $0.24 per watt lower on [EnergySage] than when they bid directly to the same customers [offline].” NREL also found that savings can go as high as $0.48 per watt. For an average 6 kW system, these translate into $1,440 to $2,880 of real and tangible savings for shoppers.

2018 solar tariff cost EnergySage

What this means for solar-interested homeowners today: the new solar tariff will increase costs for an average solar shopper by approximately $660 ($0.11 per watt x 6,000 watts). However, savvy EnergySage users also benefit from savings of $0.24 per watt, according to NREL. The end result, even with the tariff, is $0.13 cents per watts of real savings ($0.24 savings – $0.11 tariff), or approximately a $780 discount for a 6 kW system. The savings for commercial shoppers installing larger systems would be even higher.

While we regret that the Trump Administration has made the decision to go forward with its solar tariff, we are happy to report that using EnergySage more than offsets the tariff’s impact. If you’re interested in installing solar panels, we encourage you to get started today or share this information about EnergySage with your friends and family.

Update: One year later, looking back on the price impact of solar tariffs

The impact of the Trump Administration’s tariff on imported solar panels over the last twelve months is twofold. First, it caused the cost of solar quoted to American homeowners to spike. Second, though the cost of solar has since restarted its decline, it is not declining at the same rate we’ve observed in previous years. The end result is that the cost of solar is 5.6% higher now than it would have been if costs had been allowed to fall at their preexisting rate of decline.

Solar prices spike with finding of injury

Over the 27 months between July 2015 and September 2017, EnergySage observed a 17% decline in the average quoted cost per watt of solar quoted in its Marketplace, which equates to an average monthly decline of 0.7%. This rate of decline stopped in late September 2017.

In fact, the timing of the spike in solar prices corresponds with the International Trade Commission’s (ITC’s) finding of injury to US solar manufacturers in late September 2017, and not with the enactment of actual the tariffs in January 2018. Following the ITC ruling, solar prices momentarily spiked: from September to November 2017, the cost of solar increased by nearly one percent per month.

Although the cost of solar has since restarted its decline following the ITC ruling, solar costs are now only declining at a rate of 0.5% per month. This new rate is only two-thirds the pre-ITC ruling rate of 0.7% per month.

Impact of Solar Tariff on Residential Prices (in Dollars per Watt)

Tariffs on panels cost consumers $236.5 million in nine months

Customers who installed solar between February and June 2018 were quoted prices that were 5.6% higher, on average, than would have otherwise been expected. This price hike is above the three percent to four percent price increase we estimated in January 2018. For the average consumer, the Trump Administration’s solar tariffs have resulted in a price increase of about $0.16 cents per watt, or $960 for a standard six kW system. When we apply this price increase across all residential solar capacity additions after September 2017, we find that Trump’s solar tariffs have created a $236.5 million tax on American consumers.

16 thoughts on “How the 2018 U.S. Solar Tariff Will Impact the Price You Pay

  1. Solarman

    The information here is very good in explaining what the 30% tariff means. It is interesting that one of the Solar PV companies that filed the action is Suniva. Suniva is under bankruptcy reorganization and is primarily owned by a Chinese company. Perhaps this particular company wants the tariff on ‘other’ panels to help subsidize panel manufacturing in China and elsewhere. It seems like the tariff is to keep the price per watt higher in the U.S.. The price here for Suniva panels would be around $0.75 to $0.90 per watt, when on the World market, the same panels would sell for $0.35 to $0.45 per watt. Could it be possible that Suniva would send their tariff spoils gained in the U.S. and subsidize their World trade group panels for sell at $0.25 to $0.30 per watt for the rest of the World? There have been stirrings that JinkoSolar in China wants to build cell and panel manufacturing in the U.S.. Has China found a way for the U.S. to subsidize their World cost per watt, with the tariff imposed on their manufacturing here?

  2. john

    I am offended that you are making such a big story out of something that has a limited impact on the price of home solar installations (your words). I agree with this tariff as we should have Free trade but we also must have Fair trade and that is not what we have had before the tariff’s were imposed.
    Do you you also support China’s Dumping of steel into the United States? Do you agree with China , Japan, and other nations that place a tariff on automobiles exported into their countries? If you answer no to these questions than I will understand that you really do believe in free trade no matter the consequences to our workers and economy.

  3. Volodymyr

    Anyway, when purchasing panels I will make sure they are not from the companies who lobbied the tariff, even if it is going to cost me more.

  4. Dave Stephenson

    I wish more installers would have voluntarily bought from USA based companies to start with–it shouldn’t just be about getting the cheapest cost panels–get the BEST panels!

  5. Dave

    In every industry the low bids are almost always achieved by putting the financial hit on the lowest end works in all phases of the supply chain, through lower pay and benefits. If the high bidders in the solar industry were making excessive wages and profits then pushing them to lower bids to help consumers would make sense. However most higher end bidders are trying to pay reasonable wages and benefits. Your site should put more effort into helping and encouraging customers get and select the best bid not just the low bid.

  6. Peter DeGregory

    Great Article that I’ve shared with my FB friends. Thanks for the in depth view on the tariff. I like the breakdown that you did over 4 years. That helps people understand that although there is an impact it will be negligible if they use EnergySage to price shop.


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