SolarCity turns to 'duty free' REC

SolarCity, the largest rooftop PV installer in the US, on Thursday announced a new deal to buy Singapore-made modules from REC Solar, in a potentially worrying sign for the company’s Chinese suppliers.

SolarCity will buy between 100MW-240MW of REC’s Peak Energy modules in the year from fourth-quarter 2014, it announced today.

Tanguy Serra, SolarCity’s chief operating officer, pointedly notes that REC Solar’s modules are “US-trade compliant”.

Many in the US solar industry worry that installation companies will see their operating costs take a hit in the event the US finalizes the tariffs on Chinese and Taiwanese PV kit it announced earlier this week.

In its latest annual report, SolarCity specifically mentioned five companies from which it buys significant amounts of modules. Three of those – Yingli, Trina and Canadian Solar – do most of their manufacturing in mainland China, and a fourth – BenQ – in Taiwan.

All would face countervailing duties under the preliminary ruling issued this week by the US Commerce Department, although Trina received a lower rate than all other Chinese suppliers.

The lone North American module maker which SolarCity mentioned as a key supplier was Suniva, a relatively small producer based in the US state of Georgia, which claims that “more than 80%” of what goes into its modules is American.

California-based SolarCity aims to install 550MW of capacity this year and 1GW in 2015.

Serra also flagged up the “responsible environmental footprint” of the modules produced by REC, which has shifted all of its production to Singapore from Norway over the past few years, and in 2013 split with REC Silicon.

This week the highlights of a new US Department of Energy-backed report were published, which found that China-made PV modules have a significantly higher carbon footprint than those made in Europe – a difference largely accounted for by China’s coal-centric power supply.

It remains unclear how Chinese suppliers will respond to the US duties, should they be cemented this autumn. Some – like ReneSola and CSun – have shifted production overseas in order to get around trade sanctions.