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Asia Minute: Southeast Asia’s solar panel industry gets a boost from the U.S.

A SolarCity employee installs a solar panel on the roof of a home in Los Angeles in 2014. California's utilities want to pay new solar customers less for their extra electricity and to add new monthly fees.
A SolarCity employee installs a solar panel on the roof of a home in Los Angeles in 2014.

The Biden Administration is suspending tariffs on solar panels imported from four Asian countries. It’s part of a long-running and continuing dispute the U.S. has with China.

Supporters say the decision will speed the transition to renewable energy in this country — and it will definitely help production for the countries in Southeast Asia.

If you’ve put an imported solar panel on your house or commercial building recently, chances are it came from Southeast Asia.

Consultant Rystad Energy says 85% of all solar panel capacity brought into the U.S. last year came from four countries: Malaysia, Vietnam, Thailand and Cambodia.

Trade figures show Malaysia and Vietnam at the top of the list — exporting solar products to the U.S. worth $2.5 billion in 2021.

Thailand sent more than $1 billion of solar panels to U.S. customers last year, Cambodia sent about a quarter of that amount.

Commerce Department investigators suspect that Chinese companies have been using firms in Southeast Asia to get around their own U.S. tariffs — in some cases passing through products that were actually manufactured in China.

The Commerce Department investigation will continue — and the Biden Administration is also using the Defense Production Act to jumpstart domestic production of solar panels — but that will take time.

A White House statement says two years of tariff suspensions for the Southeast Asian countries will make sure, quote, “the U.S. has access to a sufficient supply of solar modules to meet electricity generation needs while domestic manufacturing scales up.”

Bill Dorman has been the news director at Hawaiʻi Public Radio since 2011.
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