Solar panels are ugly, they are expensive and the power they produce is
almost meaningless in the overall energy mix of the world's two largest
economies, the United States and China.
Yet the unsightly black photovoltaic (PV) panels are now a symbol of innovation, holding the promise of green jobs and leadership in the clean-tech economy. Little wonder that the administration of U.S. President Barack Obama finds itself balancing the demands of U.S. producers to keep their Chinese competitors at bay against the desire to avoid increasing trade tensions with China, while keeping U.S. consumers who want cheap Chinese panels – along with the 100,000 American workers that the solar support industry claims to employ – happy. It's a big challenge, but the Obama administration has made good decisions.
U.S. solar producers in October filed suit accusing Chinese manufacturers of receiving illegal Chinese government support in the form of preferential loans, subsidized land and similar benefits. U.S. imports of Chinese solar panels have skyrocketed in recent years, from US$ 640 million in 2009 to US$ 3.1 billion in 2011, according to U.S. Department of Commerce data. U.S. producers want stiff tariffs and duties to keep Chinese solar producers out.
But this case was never just about solar panels. Washington missed its first deadline for announcing tariffs for Chinese solar panels in February – the same month that Xi Jinping made his trip to Washington. When the decision to impose tariffs came in late March, the penalties were only symbolic. Investors in the Chinese companies cheered the light penalties: Stocks of three leading Chinese solar companies rallied more than 12 percent on the news.
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