Importing PV panels from China to the US

Solar power is the fastest-growing source of electricity in the US. PV panels are a renewable energy source that generates energy every day, depending on the weather conditions. It can generate electricity and heat. China is a leading semiconductor device manufacturer, including photovoltaic cells used in solar panels. China accounts for almost 50% of photovoltaic devices exports and alike. Is importing PV panels from China to the US worth it?

How to source PV panels from China?

One of the best and most convenient ways to find a supplier in China is to use online shopping B2B sites. The most popular are Alibaba and Made-in-China (check other B2B websites). You can also do it the traditional way and attend trade fairs in your industry to meet suppliers or go on a business trip to the main production areas. The third way is to take advantage of the services of professionals to find suppliers, so-called sourcing companies.

Importing PV panels is a hot topic. In such cases, importers have to take full precautions. Have the supplier verified no matter how you come across a potential Chinese partner. You can find out if the supplier you selected is a manufacturer or a trading company.

The next step is to sign a cooperation agreement valid under Chinese law. If it meets the requirements, the supplier must follow the provisions. For example, if a clause states that the manufacturer offers a warranty for 25 years, the company has to keep the promise.

Do not buy bulk solar panels before you test the product quality. First, ask for a sample. After adjustments, you can place a bulk order. Once 20-30% of products have been manufactured, it is time for the first quality control, “during production inspection.” At this stage, production mistakes can be eliminated without major costs. Then, the quality control can be conducted pre-shipment and during container loading. Pre-shipment control is conducted when the production is finished. The inspector should oversee container loading to ensure that the right amount of the right product is properly packaged and ready to be shipped.

Where are solar panels in China produced?

PV panels in China are produced mainly in the southeastern part of the country, in Anhui, Jiangsu, and Guangdong provinces. See where the majority of Chinese manufacturers in the PV industry are:

  • Solar panels: Hefei, Wuxi, Nanjing, Yangzhou
  • Foldable solar panels: Shenzhen, Yangzhou
  • Solar power systems: Hefei, Foshan, Yangzhou, Shenzhen

Read more on solar panel manufacturers in China.

Importing PV panels from China to the US manufacturers map

US duty rates on PV panels from China

One of the things that the importer must check before placing an order for goods is to check duty rates. US duty rates on solar panels are available in the Harmonized Tariff Schedule.

  • 8504.40.95 – Inverters – 0% 
  • 8501.31.81 – Generators – 2.5%
  • 8541.42.10 – Crystalline silicon photovoltaic cells not assembled in modules or made up into panels – 0% 
  • 8541.43.00 – Crystalline silicon photovoltaic cells assembled in modules or made up into panels – 0%
  • 8541.10.00 – Diodes, other than photosensitive or light-emitting diodes (LED) – 0%

What is up with the additional duty on China photovoltaic panels?

China owns the PV panel industry – it controls over 80% of the supply chain. It produces around 98% of all wafers and ingots, 80% of cells, and 73% of PV panels. For the past several years, China spent about ten times as much on solar manufacturing than Europe and the US combined. Moreover, Chinese PV panels are affordable.

Sourcing PV panels from China to the US is not popular due to additional China tariffs. The US imposed tariffs on Chinese solar panel and cell makers in 2012, which are still in place. The additional taxes are 25%.

US requirements for PV panels

Sourced PV panels have to comply with product safety and compliance rules in the target market. It is the importer’s obligation to check the requirements in the US.

PV panels imported to the US must bear a Nationally Recognized Testing Laboratory mark (NRTL). Even though there are multiple NRTLs, UL (Underwriters Laboratories) and ETL are one of the most known.

Which certification is used for solar panels in the US?

One of the NRTL certifications for photovoltaic modules is UL 1703. It covers flat-plate photovoltaic modules and panels that comply with OSHA, the National Electric Code (NEC), and the National Fire Prevention Association.

It is not a legal requirement for PV panels to bear the UL mark. However, without the NRTL mark, there is no way to connect solar panels to the grid, so it is often of no use to end-users.

Alternative to UL mark are TUV (Rhineland), CSA, IEC (International “Electrotechnical” Commission), and ETL (Electrical Testing Laboratory) marks.

Importing PV panels from China to the US – to sum up

  • PV panel production in China is concentrated in Anhui, Jiangsu, and Guangdong provinces.
  • Even though the US duty rate on photovoltaic panels and alike is low, there is an additional China tariff.
  • PV panels in the US have to bear an NRTL mark.
  • When you source from China, make sure to check suppliers’ credibility and perform quality controls.

Check out our post on importing solar panels from China to the European Union.