More shots fired in the ongoing solar-powered trade dispute between China and the U.S.

The United States, the European Union, and China have been caught up in a trade-war-triangle for at least the past couple of years over, apparently, who is “fairly” subsidizing their domestic solar manufacturing industry, and who isn’t. I must confess, I rather fail to see the distinction between the myriad cash grants, loan guarantees, tax credits, and portfolio standards that both China and the U.S. offer the solar industry at various levels of production and installation — but I suppose we’re meant to believe that there is one, since the Obama administration just imposed further duties on our Eastern competitor’s solar market, via Reuters:

The United States slapped new import duties on solar panels and other related products from China on Tuesday after the Commerce department ruled they were produced using Chinese government subsidies, potentially inflaming trade tensions between the two countries.

The U.S. arm of German solar manufacturer SolarWorld AG filed a petition complaining that Chinese manufacturers are sidestepping duties imposed in 2012 by shifting production of the cells used to make their panels to Taiwan and continuing to flood the U.S. market with cheap products.

The new complaint seeks to close that loophole by extending import duties to also cover panels made with parts from Taiwan.

In a preliminary determination, the Commerce department imposed duties of 35.21 percent on imports of panels and other products made by Wuxi Suntech Power and five other affiliated companies, 18.56 percent on imports of Trina Solar and 26.89 percent on imports from other Chinese producers.

Oh, good grief. Protectionism, which happens to be yet another form of special treatment for domestic solar panel manufacturers, is never a good idea, but neither is the subsidization that just keeps on escalating this travesty of free trade. Subsidization is a really great way to discourage the kind of price efficiency and innovation that can actually help newer, less established technologies gain their own competitive merits — which is probably one of the reasons why China’s solar-panel market is a hot mess of over-supply, corner-cutting, poor quality, and environmental self-defeat, via the NYT:

Although China may be a cheaper place than Europe for producing solar panels, the savings come at a higher cost to the environment, a new study says.

Weaker environmental standards and the more highly polluting sources of energy used by Chinese manufacturers are the reasons for the discrepancy, according to research by Northwestern University and the United States Department of Energy’s Argonne National Laboratory. …

The environmental cost of Chinese- made solar panels is about twice that of those made in Europe, said Fengqi You, a corresponding author of the paper, which will be published in next month’s issue of the journal Solar Energy.

‘‘While it might be an economically attractive option to move solar panel manufacturing from Europe to China, it is actually less sustainable from the life cycle energy and environmental perspective — especially under the motivation of using solar panels for a more sustainable future,’’ Dr. You, an assistant professor of chemical and biological engineering at Northwestern, said in a news release last week from the Argonne National Laboratory.

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