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

solar tariff cost impact 2018

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

Year 1 Year 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 percentage 30% 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.


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

  1. kenny

    i have to wonder if the tariffs haven’t been some sort of trump revenge against elon musk.
    first it was solar panels,
    then aluminum and steel (tesla cars are mostly aluminum).

    what are the odds that the next tariff will be on lithium cells and batteries?

  2. Kelly Rinden

    Why are all the articles about this as vague as possible? It seems like no one is stating any actual facts, real costs, or real world impact of these tarriffs.

  3. NameWithheld

    “Why are all the articles about this as vague as possible?“ I would guess that it is because the articles are written for or by the industry. In order to paint the cheeriest picture “facts” are shaded until the reader is bathed in infrared but deprived of the visible – and left to take a $ trip in the dark.

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