Eurostat: EU had €6.2 billion solar panel trade deficit in 2020

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Meyer Burger’s factory in Freiberg, Saxony, Germany.

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EU data body the European Statistical Office (Eurostat) has laid bare the challenge facing European solar module manufacturers trying to wrestle back market share from Chinese rivals – although the latest, year-old figures predate the rash of manufacturing plans announced this year.

Eurostat on Thursday said the EU had imported €8 billion worth of solar modules last year, compared to an export trade worth €1.8 billion.

While that import bill was 250% higher than the volume of panels bought by the bloc’s member states in 2015, it was actually lower than the solar module import value recorded in 2012. Eurostat said the value of Europe’s solar panel exports last year was around the same as it had been eight years earlier.

Unsurprisingly, China was the dominant source of solar modules imported to Europe in 2020, accounting for 75% of the market. Some 6% of the solar modules imported by the EU in 2020 came from Malaysia, 4% came from Japan, and 3% from South Korea, with Taiwan, the U.S. and the U.K. each accounting for 2% of imports.

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China also figured among the chief export markets for European-made panels, with around 8% of shipments. The U.S. was the chief external market for European solar manufacturers, as the destination for 18% of exports last year, with 14% of shipments heading to Singapore, 11% to the U.K., and 7% to Switzerland. Malaysia and Taiwan each accounted for 6% of the export market.

The European solar industry is hoping to carve out a bigger slice of the world market as Asian supply chains have been buffeted, first by the Covid-19 pandemic and then by a post-Covid surge in demand which shipping companies and manufacturers have been unable to satisfy. Moves such at the EU’s planned carbon border adjustment mechanism, which would penalize imported panels for their carbon footprint, are intended to further boost European solar manufacturing.

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