By Kate Abnett and Philip Blenkinsop
BRUSSELS (Reuters) – Europe’s solar power industry has warned policymakers not to impose tariffs on imports, amid fears that disrupting supplies of products from China would seriously damage Europe’s ability to rapidly install clean energy.
The call comes as Brussels and European governments consider tougher action on imports as they seek to expand clean tech manufacturing in Europe and reduce the reliance on China for products needed for the green transition.
The European Commission this month launched an investigation that could lead to tariffs to protect EU producers against cheaper Chinese electric vehicle imports. Meanwhile, Germany is examining options including trade protections to shield local solar manufacturers from falling global prices, a government document seen by Reuters showed.
“Tariffs are not a good answer to the current challenges in the European solar industry,” said Gunter Erfurt, Board Director at industry group SolarPower Europe, whose members include producers, large buyers and companies involved in installation.
“Instead of sanctioning the entire industry through tariffs, we must incentivize solar installations that originate from resilient European solar production. This way, the deployment of solar energy can continue undisturbed while the European solar manufacturing can grow steadily,” said Erfurt, who is CEO of Swiss solar cell maker Meyer Burger.
In a statement, SolarPower Europe said trade barriers on solar would be a “lose-lose strategy”, and urged them to instead help local manufacturers grow – including by making it easier to support local factories under EU state aid rules.
SolarPower Europe did not explicitly mention China.
The EU gets more than 90% of its ingots and wafers for solar panels from China, according to the European Commission.
European manufacturers have been complaining of a “flood” of Chinese solar modules into the European market offered at prices below manufacturing costs and forcing them to cut theirs.
But industry fears restricting Chinese supplies would cause a repeat of the 2013-2018 period, when Europe’s solar energy installations dipped temporarily – coinciding with EU limits on tariff-free imports of Chinese solar panels and cells.
The EU installed a record 40 gigawatts of solar power capacity last year.
(Reporting by Kate Abnett, Philip Blenkinsop; additional reporting by Riham Alkousaa; Editing by Hugh Lawson)