European solar power companies warn against import curbs

More than 400 companies involved in Europe’s solar power sector urged policymakers on Wednesday not to launch a trade investigation that could lead to EU tariffs on imported solar products.

The call comes ahead of a meeting of solar industry chiefs, national ministers and the EU commissioner for the internal market, Thierry Breton, on Friday to assess measures to bring production back to Europe.

“Ahead of the industry roundtable on Friday, we’re getting worrying signals that a trade defence investigation is about to be announced,” said Walburga Hemetsberger, CEO of industry association SolarPower Europe.

“This flies in the face of the path we have set out for European solar re-industrialisation,” she continued.

SolarPower Europe, which coordinated the call, said signatories included 18 manufacturers and 28 national associations and research institutes. All agreed that tariffs should not apply to imported photovoltaic (PV) products.

Separately, the European PV manufacturing industry lobby has been pressing the EU to protect the bloc’s domestic photovoltaic industry from what it called Chinese “unfair competition”.

In a letter last week, the lobby asked EU member states to support extending non-price criteria for domestically produced solar hardware into public procurements and auctions, as part of the EU Net Zero Industry Act that aims at having at least 40% of solar components produced within the bloc by 2030. Non-price criteria include quality and other factors.

“The idea is that once we would be starting with the public procurements and auctions, then it will be a clear message to the European manufacturing industry,” Zygimantas Vaiciunas of the European Solar Manufacturing Council told Reuters.

The European Union has a target to reach 600 gigawatts of EU solar installations by 2030, about triple the level of 2022, requiring a significant acceleration of deployment. Tariffs, the group said, would only slow this down.

The signatories – comprising 425 companies, plus 28 national associations and research institutes – said they also supported efforts to reshore some solar manufacturing to reach an EU goal of 30 gigawatts of production capacity by 2025.

The European Union set limits on imports of Chinese solar panels, cells and wafers from 2013 to 2018. Now, more than 90% of PV wafers and other components come from China.

Brussels has launched an anti-subsidy investigation into Chinese electric vehicles and will scrutinise foreign subsidies in the wind sector to ensure clean tech manufacturing takes place in Europe and dependence on China declines.

Reporting by Kate Abnett, Philip Blenkinsop in Brussels and Riham Alkousaa in Berlin; Editing by Susan Fenton and Jane Merriman