Importing Solar Panels From China, India, and More

Men on the roof of a house installing solar panels
Time and planning are required in order to ship solar panels manufactured overseas. Here’s what you need to know for importing solar panels to generate energy.
June 3, 2020
Last Modified: May 16, 2024
Share This Article
copy-link-to-clipboard Copy URL to Clipboard

Importing solar panels has proven to be a lucrative source of income for savvy United States importers. Solar panels ship out internationally every day, and have become a popular form of  alternative energy. The process of importing solar panels can be time-consuming, requiring many steps and materials along the way.

U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) requires entities importing solar panels into the country to follow specific regulations and tariff codes. Businesses must understand licensing and certifications. They must also select reputable manufacturers to avoid fines and ensure a customs clearance process free of delays and penalties.

Many importers that ship solar panels to the U.S. rely on the services of a customs broker. USA Customs Clearance has the experience and resources required to help you safely import your solar panels.

What Are the Rules and Regulations for Importing Solar Panels?

Importing solar panels such as the ones depicted in this image requires importers to thoroughly research the panel's country of origin.

When importing solar panels into the United States, importers must follow rules and regulations set by the CBP. These regulations ensure that solar panel imports comply with U.S. standards for safety, efficiency, and trade. Understanding these rules can streamline the import process, preventing costly delays and fines. 

Here’s a closer look at the key CBP regulations governing the import of solar panels:

  • Harmonized Tariff Schedule (HTS) Classification: All solar panels must be correctly classified under the HTS to determine applicable tariffs and duties. 
  • Country of Origin Marking: Solar panels must be marked with their country of origin. This is crucial for determining duties and creating transparency for consumers.
  • Anti-Dumping and Countervailing Duties (AD/CVD): Solar panels from certain countries may be subject to AD/CVD if they are sold in the U.S. at less than fair value. We’ll discuss this in greater detail later on.
  • Environmental and Health Regulations: Importers must also make sure that solar panels comply with environmental regulations.

Importers should become familiar with the latest updates and changes to these rules, as international trade laws can change quickly. Being informed and compliant contributes to the broader use of solar energy in the United States. In that same vein, it’s worth knowing what regulations may also affect the installation and use of solar panels domestically.

March 2024 Update: Enforcing the UFLPA

In February, CBP sent a questionnaire to certain companies in the USA requesting details about their supply chains. These questionnaires were designed to expose entities violating the Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Act (UFLPA) of 2021.

The goal of the UFLPA is to prevent the importation of goods in whole or in part from the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region of China into the United States. There is strong evidence that the Chinese government is forcing the native Uyghur people in this region into labor camps in order to meet production goals for certain commodities.

Solar panel importers in particular need to be aware of this, mostly because of the “in part” provision of the act. Xinjiang is currently one of the world’s top producers of polysilicon, a primary component of most solar panels. 

This means that polysilicon from Xinjiang is likely to be found in many imported solar energy products. Even if the panels themselves were manufactured elsewhere, the inclusion of polysilicon sourced from Xinjiang renders them illegal for importing to the USA.

A questionnaire might seem trivial, but this is likely just a first step toward tougher enforcement actions going forward. Solar panel importers must scrutinize not only their supply chains, but those of the exporters from whom they acquire goods. Failure to do so will prove costly as CBP ramps up its efforts to prevent the Chinese government from profiting off of forced labor

June 2022 Update

In June 2022, the Biden Administration announced a 24-month tariff exemption on the import of Crystalline Silicon Photovoltaic (CSPV) Cells, aka solar panels, from a handful of Southeast Asian countries, including:

  • Cambodia
  • Malaysia
  • Thailand
  • Vietnam

Demand For Solar Energy

A field covered with solar panels.

The demand for solar panels in the USA is growing rapidly. Their use has become more widespread because of their affordability and accessibility. The growth rate has increased by nearly 50% during the last decade. To put that into perspective, the amount of power made available through solar panels is equal to supplying 12 million houses with power

There are a multitude of benefits that come with utilizing solar energy as opposed to conventional energy provided by fossil fuel-based facilities. 

  • The solar industry has provided new jobs throughout the country. Photovoltaic installers are in high demand, and the solar panel industry has nine times the average job growth.  
  • Solar panels can be installed directly on rooftops to avoid potential land impacts and to utilize the space provided. 
  • Improved environmental management comes in the form of lowered carbon emissions compared to traditional fuel-based utilities. 
  • Reliable alternative during power outages from storms or as part of rolling blackout policies. 

Because of these recognizable benefits, many homeowners and businesses are investing in the importation and installation of solar panels. 

Since the solar energy market is the main driver for a reduction in global warming and environmental pollution, an investment tax credit was developed in 2005. 

The Investment Tax Credit allows individuals to deduct a percentage off their federal taxes for carrying out the use of solar projects. Owning a solar energy system makes you eligible for a solar investment tax. When filing for your yearly tax return, you should incorporate your solar project. 

The primary provider for this renewable electrical source has predominantly been Germany. However, as of 2018, the United States and China have become the leading solar conductors internationally. The demand and competition amongst competitors have significantly impacted the pricing of PV modules. 

Which Countries Export Solar Panels?

A man wearing gloves adjusting a solar panel.

Have you decided from which country you wish to import solar panels? This is a fundamental part of the process. There are particular aspects to consider when selecting a place of importation. These include:

  • Quality
  • Price
  • Trade barriers

The United States’ recent top sources of solar panel imports can be seen in the following table.

Top Five Solar Panel Exporting Countries in 2022

CountryPercentage of U.S. Solar Panel Imports
Vietnam34.3%
Malaysia17.4%
Thailand14.2%
South Korea13.2%
Cambodia7.6%

Source:Statista

There are two other countries importers in the USA use as a source of solar panels that we should mention: Germany and The People’s Republic of China. While they own a smaller share of overall imports than other nations, they offer unique benefits and, in some cases, hurdles for importers.

Importing Solar Panels From China

Rows of solar panels mounted on posts in the sea in front of a modern metropolis with numerous skyscrapers.

Despite tensions between our two countries, Chinese imports are still prized for their affordability. Importers who want to take advantage of this must be aware of the hurdles that come with importing goods from China.

In 2018, a tariff was placed on all imported Chinese photovoltaic cells into the United States as a result of a claimed unfair competition with China. This is an example of a potential trade barrier, since importers must be aware of AD/CVD when deciding where to make their purchase. This tariff is intended to cover the cost of the manufacturing processes as well as the importation of solar cells and modules. 

There are terms to abide by and special circumstances to consider when importing PV panels from China. Aside from a language barrier, the process of importation, price consultations, quality control, and local customs need to be considered.

Becoming familiar with the taxes involved with this particular class of imports can provide a business owner comfort during the transaction. A wide range of codes that are related to trading with China can be found when researching rules and regulations.  

There are a variety of teams and management systems available to offer assistance during the importation process.

How to Start Importing Solar Panels from China

  1. Start by researching the suppliers that China has to offer. You’ll want to build a strong relationship with your vendor and give them details about your business. It’s always a good idea to look into their experience and find out how long they’ve been making solar panels. 
  1. Negotiate a price. During this process, evaluate the quality of the products and whether they have equal value for the money spent. 
  1. Analyze the importing terms available to you, courtesy of the International Chamber of Commerce (ICC). Common agreements include FOB, or Free on Board, meaning that the seller is responsible for the product until it is shipped. Afterward, the buyer takes responsibility for the goods. 

CIF – cost, insurance and freight – yields this liability onto the seller, and also states that any additional costs associated with paperwork, inspections, or customs will also fall on the seller. 

  1. Make sure to abide by the regulatory standards set forth by the CBP. Customs broker agents are available to help ensure these conditions are met. 
  1. Hire a customs brokerage management team. Doing so could ease the process immensely, transferring the price calculations duty onto someone else. 
  1. Obtain a trial order during this time. This will provide you with an idea of actual quality as well as shipping lead times.
  1. To prevent receiving items that are non-compliant or otherwise of poor quality, consider hiring an export items inspector to provide an inspection certificate.
  1. There are documents required to facilitate imports and exports nationally. A customs broker will handle the clearances during the time of transportation.
  1. Store import records after receiving your shipment for at least five years after the transaction.

If you plan to re-sell your solar panels in the USA, you’ll want to factor all costs associated with importing into your final price. One of those costs is the duty assessed by CBP on imported solar panels.

Import Duty on Solar Panels From China

Solar trade with China is subject to a solar cell tariff of 50%, following a new set of tariffs announced by the Biden Administration in May 2024 . Anti-dumping duties come into play when imports are priced significantly below the common price that it is sold for in the United States. 

This AD/CVD solar duty protects local businesses and saves domestic jobs, which would otherwise decline due to the low prices available elsewhere. Solar panels fall into the category that individuals consider as being dumped. To reach a fair marketable value, the U.S. International Trade Commission (ITC) issues a tariff on these products. 

Importing Solar Panels From Germany

An overhead view of an eco-friendly power production facility with multiple solar panels and wind mills.

On the other hand, solar panels imported from Germany can have many benefits. Germany marks their solar panels with “Made in Germany,” which indicates that the manufacturing was exclusively performed there. 

Some German businesses have been acknowledged as Tier 1 manufacturers. This means that they assemble their products from start to finish. In contrast, Tier 2 and 3 companies provide components or raw materials. In these circumstances, companies may elect to purchase pre-assembled components and are only involved in the very final stage of production 

In some cases, these second- and third-class tiers may choose to buy all their parts separately. From a manufacturing point of view, it gives such companies less control over the quality of certain components. For that reason, German solar suppliers are often favored, as they make up the majority of Tier 1 companies. 

When importing products from Germany, it is important to verify that the products meet U.S. standards. Germany’s standards, rules, and regulations may differ in unexpected ways.

Germany, like China, offers FOB Incoterms®. As with any international shipment, it’s best to review which terms best fit your business needs and which ones your supplier will also agree to. 

Other expenses to consider when shipping from Germany are the customs clearance and taxes that are involved with that process. Custom brokers become very useful during this time to make certain that the customs duties are handled properly. 

Choosing a Manufacturer

There are a few things to consider when choosing which solar panel manufacturer is your best option. Some of these factors include:

  • Price per panel
  • Manufacturer’s history
  • Warranties and customer service
  • Reputation with previous customers

Examining a manufacturer’s background can reduce the likelihood of working with a solar business that has the potential for bankruptcy. If this were to take place, the warranties in place could become null and void. 

A company’s average solar panel wattage is also an important aspect to consider when choosing a manufacturer. Solar modules with higher wattage are naturally going to produce more energy per unit. In turn, fewer units are required. 

Depending on the intended solar location, such as a rooftop placement, a higher wattage may also be useful when space is limited. Efficiency levels of solar units are also calculated for buyers, and can make a huge difference in the value of the product. 

One of the details that should be discussed before choosing a manufacturer are the Incoterms for the shipments that will take place. The Incoterms that are attached to shipments will determine important details regarding shipping costs, liability, and insurance. 

For more information on this, check out our article What Are Incoterms?

Managing Import Costs

A factory worker inspecting solar panels.

Despite the fact that average solar photovoltaic cell import and installation costs have decreased over the last decade, it’s still possible to overspend. Luckily, there are ways to avoid overspending during the process. 

Even after the government placed a tariff on the importation of goods internationally, prices have still continued to drop. Once the tariff was implemented, there was a drop in demand. This left solar industries with a surplus. In turn, prices dropped dramatically and continue to fall. 

Additionally, solar energy has been shown to have a payback period of fewer than five years due to a reduction in electricity used. Because importing solar panels is affordable and saves money in the long run, they can be a great investment. 

Below are tips to avoid excess spending and factors to consider when importing solar panels internationally: 

  • Calculating all costs beforehand can be beneficial when you evaluate the best importation option. Duties, taxes, regulatory controls, transportation costs, adjusted lead times, merchandise variation, and other related factors should be included in the total estimated cost. 
  • Ensuring that all required documents are completed and entirely accurate can help avoid added fines. An incomplete document may result in a delay in shipment, which in turn leads to audits and adjustments in the financial statements. 
  • Obeying the rules and abiding by the regulations and requirements put forth by CBP can have a substantial impact on the costs associated with importation. Failing to do so can also result in fines. 

Working with third parties can not only alleviate the stress on a business owner but can also reduce unexpected costs. These individuals are skilled in fulfilling the customs clearance process, which may be confusing for the average individual. 

How Should I Ship Solar Panels to the US?

Importing solar panels requires the use of freight shipping services. Solar panel shipments vary in quantity and size, so selecting the right service is key to avoiding damage during transportation. 

The first step in deciding which service to use begins with getting your shipment’s dimensions. Depending on how many solar panels you plan to ship, the best shipping service for your situation will vary. There are other aspects of the delivery process to consider, such as which packaging materials and steps are essential to provide safe transit. 

Another important part of the process is deciding whether to ship by air or ocean. Although shipping solar panels across the ocean is considerably cheaper, shipping times will be measured in weeks or months. Selecting air freight will expedite the process, but is much more expensive. If your solar panel shipment is up against a strict deadline, you’ll likely need international expedited shipping.

In some instances, you’ll need warehouses and other transportation services following the completion of shipment. Importers may need to store solar panels prior to installation or resale, which is another primary logistics service. 

Third-party logistic (3PL) services are available to offer assistance with storage and the transportation process from beginning to end. Working with these companies can save you time and money whether you’re selling solar panels or bringing them in for a personal project.

Importing Solar Panels With USA Customs Clearance

As you can see, importing solar panels can be an extensive and confusing process. Third-party companies are available to alleviate stress on business owners and individuals interested in importing solar energy. This is where USA Customs Clearance can help you. 

In addition to assisting you with clearing your goods through customs, our comprehensive 3PL services offer you even more convenience. We can also arrange transportation of your goods from beginning to end. This allows us to act as your one-stop shop when importing goods into the U.S. 

We also offer additional import services, including

Give us a call at (855) 912-0406 or contact us online. We’ll be able to answer all of your questions and help you successfully clear and import your shipment of solar panels.

Share This Article
copy-link-to-clipboard Copy URL to Clipboard

Leave a Reply

Latest comments (1)

USA Customs Clearance
315 NE 14th St #4122
Ocala, FL 34470
(855) 912-0406
Copyright AFC International LLC. All Rights Reserved.
magnifiercross